GERRY ADAMS – the controversial figure of Irish politics and former face of the IRA has said he will step down as the party-leader of Sinn Fein.
Adams was the face of the IRA during its bloody campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.
He said he would be replaced as party leader, a position he has held since 1983, at a party conference next year. He added that he would also not stand for re-election to the Irish parliament.
“Republicanism has never been stronger… But leadership means knowing when it is time for a 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.
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.
IRA FIGHTERS SAID ADAMS ‘WAS’ INVOLVED IN IRA CAMPAIGNS
Gerry Adams has always denied membership of the IRA but accusations from former IRA fighters that he was involved in its campaign of killings have dogged him throughout his career.
Adams was a key figure in the nationalist movement throughout the three decades of violence between Catholic militants seeking a united Ireland, mainly Protestant militants who wanted to maintain Northern Ireland’s position as a part of Britain, and the British army.
3,600 died in the conflict, many at the hands of the IRA.
As head of the political wing of the IRA during its bombing campaigns in 1980s Britain, Adams was a pariah and banned from speaking on British airwaves, forcing television stations to dub his voice with that of an actor.
In 1988 – Tory Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, announced that organisations in Northern Ireland believed to support terrorism would be banned from directly broadcasting on the airwaves.
The ban affected 11 loyalist and Republican organisations but Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, was the main target.
It meant that instead of hearing Gerry Adams, viewers and listeners would hear an actor’s voice reading a transcript of the Sinn Fein leader’s words.
He and his party emerged from the political cold in October 1997 when he shook hands with former Labour PM Tony Blair at their first meeting. A year later, he helped win sceptical elements in the IRA to the Good Friday peace deal, which largely ended the violence.
HOPE FOR POWER-SHARING IN NORTHERN IRELAND
A new Sinn Fein leader will also take over responsibility for rescuing power-sharing devolved government in Northern Ireland and avoid a return to full direct rule from London for the first time in decade.
Power-sharing collapsed after Sinn Fein withdrew in January saying the Democratic Unionist Party was not treating it as an equal partner and a series of talks have failed to break the impasse.
Additional reporting by Reuters