Gerry Adams to step down as leader of Sinn Féin next year

By Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter, In the RDS

Gerry Adams is to step down as leader of Sinn Féin next year and will not contest the next election.

In a much-anticipated speech, Mr Adams told around 3,000 delegates attending his party’s Ard Fheis this evening that this would be his last as leader.

The party Ard Chomhairle will meet in two weeks time to decide when the emergency Ard Fheis will take place to decide when Gerry Adams' will be replaced.

Mr Adams received a standing ovation as he made his way onto the podium and again when he announced his departure.

"This is my last Ard Fheis as Uachtarain Sinn Féin," he said, adding Kerry TD Martin Ferris would also be stepping down ahead of the next General Election.

He said he had requested that a special Ard Fheis in 2018 to elect a new leader.

Mr Adams said he had been "very proud" to serve as president but added that he had come here to speak to party members about the "plan for change".

He thanked "everyone who has invited me into your homes and communities" and singled out the people of west Belfast and Louth.

"Leadership means knowing when it is time for change," he said.

Gerry Adams takes to the stage to give his address. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The  69-year-old TD who played a critical role in the Northern Ireland peace process and in recent years brought electoral success for the party in the South.

Looking back to the 1980’s when he first became involved in politics when "the war in the north was raging" Mr Adams added that the and hunger strikes two years before "dramatically altered" the political landscape and his party had striven to bring about change.

He also paid tribute to the late Martin McGuinness saying "we miss Martin" and singled out his widow and children who were in the audience. He described his death like a "kick in the face".

Before announcing his departure, Mr Adams took the time to hit out at his political opponents, he claimed that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar "needs to be more like Michael Collins and less like Hugh Grant".

"Leo Varadkar needs to stand up for the interests of all the people of the island. He has a veto."

Earlier today Sinn Féin members voted to hold a special Ard Fhéis three months after the departure of the party president.

This will allow for a leadership contest within the party, however Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary-Lou McDonald has been widely tipped to take over the position when it is vacated by Mr Adams.

Mr Adams has led Sinn Féin for the past 34 years and in recent months had strongly hinted that he would announce his stepping down at the Ard Fheis.

During the party’s think-in before the Dáil returned in September Mr Adams said the party were finalising a 10-year plan and details of this would be announced during the Ard Fheis.

Fianna Fáil says Sinn Féin may have new leaders, but they are not new faces.

Speaking at his party's annual dinner in Dublin tonight, Micheál Martin said Sinn Féin remains as unacceptable as ever as a Government partner.

The Fianna Fáil leader went on to accuse Sinn Féin of leaving Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole, exposed to Brexit, by refusing to break the impasse in the Stormont talks.

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