Gerry Adams to step down as Sinn Fein president in 2018

PA Wire  PA Images                   Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams addresses the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in the RDS Dublin

Gerry Adams, the divisive politician known around the world as the face of the Irish republican movement as it shifted from violence to peace, announced Saturday that he was stepping down as leader of Sinn Fein next year after heading the party for over 30 years.

The 69-year-old republican veteran told the annual Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Dublin it would be his last as leader, and a special meeting of the party would be called next year to elect a successor. "I have been enormously privileged to be part of an fantastic and evolving collective leadership".

"Leadership means knowing when it's time for change, and that time is now", he told the conference which stood to applaud him. I will not be standing for the Dáil; neither will Martin Ferris [a former IRA gunrunner and Sinn Fein TD].

The time frame involved will not be confirmed until Mr Adams delivers his televised address to the ard fheis, so it is still conceivable that he will lead his party into the next general election.

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"I want to thank everyone who has welcomed me into their homes and communities and have made me part of countless campaigns, countless elections and countless negotiations", he said. "This is also my last Ard Fheis", said Adams.

Adams said Sinn Fein would be working towards a unity referendum to be held within the next five years.

According to Sky's Ireland Correspondent David Blevins, the front runner to succeed Gerry Adams is his serving deputy Mary Lou McDonald, who is 48 and a member of the Irish Parliament. He now represents the Louth constituency in the Irish Republic and sits in the Dail.

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