Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams ended his Stormont career today by praising the “remarkable” achievement of power-sharing.
The West Belfast MLA, 62, is standing as a candidate for Louth in Dáil elections next year.
He said when next spring‘s Stormont elections were held it would be the first time the legislature had survived a full four year term. But he warned public representatives would be judged on their ability to deliver for ordinary people.
“The Assembly is approaching the end of its first full term and that is a remarkable achievement given the difficulties that have had to be overcome,” the party leader said.
“This Assembly is about delivering for citizens. The island of Ireland is too small for us to be separated forever by an artificial border, most sensible people know this and the Good Friday Agreement recognises this.
“God speed the day when we will be united.”
Mr Adams was a central player in the negotiations leading up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He has been an MLA for west Belfast since the Assembly was elected in June of that year.
However it took until November 1999 for an Executive to be elected after the intervention of former US Senator George Mitchell. In February 2000 the Assembly was suspended after no deal was struck on decommissioning IRA arms.
Mr Adams led Sinn Féin‘s court challenge to former Ulster Unionist First Minister David Trimble‘s ban on the party participating in North/South Ministerial Council meetings.
He was instrumental in helping persuade the IRA to disarm. Following months of talks, in April 2005, he appealed to the IRA to help rebuild the political process and embrace democratic means. In July the IRA formally ordered an end to its armed campaign. In September that year arms decommissioning body head General John de Chastelain said the IRA had put all of its weapons beyond use.
There were months of wrangling over republicans‘ commitment to solely democratic means. Mr Adams and other Sinn Féin leaders put forward a motion calling for a debate on accepting the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. That was ultimately proceeded with in January 2007, paving the way for the current term in office.
Following elections Martin McGuinness became Deputy First Minister and adopted a higher profile at Stormont.
The most recent tensions were generated over the devolution of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast, requiring weeks of negotiating for a Hillsborough deal at the start of this year linking policing with progress on parades.
Mr Adams has largely confined his Stormont interventions in recent months to constituency matters.
He was addressing a debate today when he endorsed calls for an integrated, cross-departmental early years children‘s strategy which he said would help a part of his west Belfast constituency where 40% of children are not registered with a dentist.
Mr Adams added: “Today‘s debate is an example of the issues that must be tackled if we are to improve the living conditions of citizens, and particularly children, so good luck to all of you.”
Democratic Unionist Lagan Valley Assembly member Jonathan Craig did not share the bonhomie.
“It is not often I welcome the departure of someone from this house but I am more than glad to see the back of him,” he said.
Mr Adams will be replaced by former IRA hunger striker Pat Sheehan in the Assembly.
The party president has said the main reasons for his surprise decision to contest the southern election were the economic crisis and the need for new ideas.
He said the current Fianna Fáil/Green coalition government was “probably the most unpopular in the history of the state”.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen will call a general election early next year after his Green Party coalition partners demanded a poll.
Louth is currently represented by Sinn Féin’s Arthur Morgan, who has said he plans to step down at the next election.
Sinn Féin has five MPs, including Mr Adams, and four TDs in the Irish parliament. Mr Adams will step down at Westminster when the Dáil elections are called.