Gerry Adams has said he is putting plans in place to stand down as leader of Sinn Féin, triggering speculation he may run for the Irish presidency.
The politician, who has been Sinn Féin’s president since the early 1980s, said on Tuesday he would give further details about his plans after the party’s annual conference, Ard Fheis, in November.
At a two-day internal conference in the Irish Republic, Adams told party activists he wanted to implement a “planned process of generational change”.
The Dáil deputy for Louth in the Irish parliament and the former West Belfast MP said he would be seeking re-election as Sinn Féin president at the Ard Fheis.
He said: “It is our intention to unveil at the Ard Fheis in November the plan that [the late Martin McGuinness] helped to formulate.
“I will be allowing my name to go forward for the position of Uachtarán Shinn Féin [party president]. And if elected I will be setting out our priorities and in particular our planned process of generational change, including my own future intentions.”
It is the first signal from Adams – one of the longest-serving party leaders in the world – that he is considering stepping down from overall leadership of the republican party.
In his speech Adams referred to the political deadlock in Northern Ireland and repeated his position that the Stormont assembly cannot return unless there is a deal securing a standalone Irish language act for the region.
Critics will see his announcement about a long-term plan to stand down as a means to deflect attention from the failure to reach a deal with the Democratic Unionist party aimed at restoring the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Unionist party also criticised Adams’ call on Tuesday for a border poll on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future. Robin Swann, the UUP leader, said Adams’ demand was “an act of attention-seeking by someone who knows his time is running out”.
Meanwhile, a damning biography of Adams written by Malachi O’Doherty, a Belfast author and journalist, will be launched on Thursday at the Ulster Museum.
There have been strong hints that Adams may seek to run for the Irish presidency when the elections are held in autumn 2018.
If Adams stood for the position of head of state he would undoubtedly face serious questions about his alleged IRA past, including a number of atrocities during the Troubles. Adams says he has never been a member of the IRA.
Adams has been at the centre of power within Sinn Féin since the early 1970s after he was released from internment without trial. He has always denied claims that from 1972 onwards he held a senior position, firstly in the Belfast IRA, and later as overall leader of the Provisionals.
He has faced repeated questions about one of the most controversial IRA murders of the early Troubles – the 1972 kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville, who had 10 children.
The IRA hunger striker Brendan Hughes, who at one time was among Adams’ closest comrades in Belfast republicanism, alleged that the future Sinn Féin leader gave the order for the widow to be “disappeared”. Before his death in 2008, Hughes gave an interview to the Boston College Belfast Project history archive detailing his life in the IRA.
On tape he claimed his Adams had ordered the death and disappearance of McConville. Adams has always denied he had any knowledge about the fate of McConville, whose body was found on a beach in County Louth in 2003.
Adams has survived at least two loyalist paramilitary assassination attempts and was badly wounded in an Ulster Defence Association attack on his car in 1984.
During the peace process Adams, alongside McGuinness, played a critical role in securing the 1994 IRA ceasefire and steering the republican movement away from armed struggle towards constitutional politics.
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