Long time Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams will step down
Controversial Irish activist Gerry Adams, president since 1983 of Sinn Fein, the "political arm" of the Irish Republican Army, announced he was stepping down next year.
Adams guided Sinn Fein through the worst of IRA violence against British soldiers and protestant activists in the 1980s and ended up being perceived as something of a peacemaker, helping to bring about the Good Friday peace agreement with the British government in 1998.
Adams said he would be replaced as party president, a position he has held since 1983, at a party conference next year. He would also not stand for reelection to the Irish parliament.
"Republicanism has never been stronger... But leadership means knowing when it is time for change. That time is now," Adams said in an emotional speech to a packed party conference.
"I have complete confidence in the next generation of leaders," he said.
Adams stayed on stage as the 2,500-strong crowd, some in tears, gave him a standing ovation and sang a traditional Irish song about the road home, followed by the national anthem.
Adams will almost certainly hand over to a successor with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, a prospect that would make Sinn Fein a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic where it has never been in power.
Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, an English literature graduate from Trinity College Dublin who has been at the forefront of a new breed of Sinn Fein politicians transforming the party's image, is the clear favourite to take over.
That would mean the left-wing party being led on both sides of the Irish border by women in their 40s after Michelle O'Neill succeeded Martin McGuinness as leader in Northern Ireland shortly before the former IRA commander's death in March.
Any reasonable person examining the life and political career of Gerry Adams must come to the conclusion that he was a terrorist enabler, a terrorist sympathizer, and possibly guilty of terrorist crimes. His contemporaries in the IRA confirm his involvement in their activities. And the fig leaf of respectability given the IRA terrorist group by Adams and Sinn Fein made negotiations with the British government far more difficult. The British knew full well who Adams was and what and who he represented. There was reluctance to negotiate with someone responsible for killing British soldiers.
But Adams learned to be a crafty politician as well. When the opportunity presented itself in 1997 to negotiate with the left wing government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Adams was ready. His real challenge was to convince the violent members of the IRA to lay down their arms. There were some ultra radical factions that broke away, but without the support of the mainline IRA, they were either captured or gave up.
How will Adams be remembered? While he will be seen as a patriot by many Catholics in Ireland, his sympathy for the tactics of the IRA mark him as a terrorist. More than 3600 people were murdered by the IRA during the "troubles" which is a record no "patriot" should be proud of.