Gerry Adams signals new year departure as Sinn Féin leader

Gerry Adams will step down as Sinn Féin leader next year. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

SINN Féin is set to undergo its first leadership change for 35 years after president Gerry Adams announced plans to step down as party president.

The Louth TD, who will be 70 on his next birthday, told the party members on Saturday that he has asked the Sinn Féin ruling executive to hold a special ard fheis next year where his successor will be appointed.

Ahead of the weekend’s ard fheis in Dublin’s RDS, Mr Adams had signalled that he would be revealing plans for a transition of power to a new leadership.

After being re-elected party president on Saturday, he said he and North Kerry TD Martin Ferris would not be contesting the next Dáil election.

Dublin TD and deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald is widely expected to succeed the former West Belfast MP, who became party leader in 1983.

Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O’Neill has ruled herself out of the top job, saying she “has enough to do”.

Addressing up to 2,000 delegates at what had been dubbed a “historic” ard fheis, Mr Adams revealed that Martin McGuinness had planned to stand down as Stormont’s deputy first minister in May this year, a decade after entering power-sharing with the DUP but that the former Foyle MLA’s illness and the fallout from the RHI scandal had brought that day forward.

He said Mr McGuinness, who died in March, was a “leading member of our leadership team”.

“I have been enormously privileged to be part of an amazing and evolving collective leadership,” Mr Adams said before paying tribute to the party other colleagues who had shaped the modern republican movement.

Ian Knox cartoon 20/11/17 

“Many comrades have given their entire lives to our struggle – they saw beyond the hardship of the moment and embraced hope,” he said.

“That resilience, like the peace process is opposed by those who uphold the status quo but despite them, we have prevailed.”

The Sinn Féin president said one of the party’s greatest achievements had been to build a peace process “with John Hume and others”.

“We have also recast Sinn Féin into an effective, all-Ireland republican party, with clear policy and political objectives, and the means to achieve them through democratic and peaceful forms of struggle where none existed before,” he said.

“Republicanism has never been stronger.”

He said leadership meant knowing when it was time for change and that that time was now. The Sinn Féin leader said the party’s ard chomhairle would be asked to agree a date in 2018 for a special conference to elect its next president.

“I have always seen myself as a team player and a team builder,” he said.

“I have complete confidence in the leaders we elected this weekend and in the next generation of leaders.”

Ahead of Mr Adams’s conference speech, a special tribute was paid to Mr McGuinness, with the Sinn Féin leader welcoming the late Foyle MLA’s wife Bernie on stage to a standing ovation.

The Louth TD paid a simple tribute to his former colleague in his address, saying: “We miss Martin.”

On Friday evening, Sinn Féin delegates backed a motion to hold a special conference on entering coalition government in the south.

However, it did not prevent the party leader from criticising his prospective Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil partners.

He characterised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a present day Thatcherite, while deriding Micheál Martin for “propping up a government for the few”.

Mr Adams said Sinn Féin supported the extension of voting rights in presidential elections to the north and the “diaspora”, and that the party backed the repeal of the eighth amendment of the Republic’s constitution, protecting the rights of the unborn child.

“Women and their doctors need legal protections,” he said.

“Women deserve and are entitled to be trusted and respected.”

He described Brexit as the “single greatest threat to the Irish people in generations” and repeated the call for Northern Ireland to be given special status within the EU.

Mr Adams said the dormant Stormont institutions needed to deliver “on the basis of respect, tolerance and equality”.

“The denial of these modest rights would not be tolerated in Dublin and London, and it won’t be tolerated in the north,” he said.

“The DUP’s opposition to these basic rights means there is no executive – he British government has been complicit in this.”

The Sinn Féin leader also pledged that his party will campaign for a referendum on Irish unity to be held in the next five years.

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