Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has formally resigned from his Westminster seat in West Belfast following news that an election date has been set for a 26 County general election.
Mr Adams is to contest the 11 March election for his party in County Louth.
He had already stepped down as a member of the Six County Assembly and at the time said he would also resign from his Westminster seat. He was replaced at the Assembly by former IRA hunger striker Pat Sheehan.
The party will now select a candidate to defend his West Belfast Westminster seat.
Mr Adams was first elected as West Belfast MP in 1983. He lost the seat to the SDLP’s Joe Hendron in 1992, but regained it in 1997 and has held it since.
The moves comes as Sinn Fein’s organisation in the 26 Counties geared up to contest the election.
Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain strongly welcomed the setting of the General Election date. In particular, there was a welcome that the election would be held on a Friday, which should facilitate voting by students and others who only travel home at weekends.
The announcement of the election date punctuated a testy ‘war of words’ between O Caolain and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who at one point threatened to sue Mr O Caolain if he repeated a series of pointed questions about Cowen’s dealings with the chiefs of Anglo Irish Bank.
Mr O Caolain said that while the election could and should still be held earlier, there would be widespread relief and satisfaction that the end of this Fianna Fail/Green government is now clearly in sight.
“The extraordinary events of the past 24 hours have seen an embattled Taoiseach make a huge miscalculation, thinking he could pull the cynical political stroke of appointing new Cabinet ministers a few weeks before a General Election.
“That miscalculation was based on the fact that up to now the Green Party has acted as the mudguard for Fianna Fail, even accepting the sell-out of economic sovereignty in the IMF/EU deal.
“Both Fianna Fail and the Greens deserve to be devastated at the polls on 11 March.
“Sinn Fein looks forward to the General Election campaign and to presenting our vision for Ireland’s future and our proposals for economic recovery to the people across the length and breadth of this State.
“We welcome the setting of the General Election date. The election could and should still be held earlier - on 11 February if the Dail were to be dissolved tomorrow 21 January, the 92nd anniversary of the inaugural meeting of An Chead Dail Eireann. That said, there will be widespread relief and satisfaction that the end of this Fianna Fail/Green Government is now finally in sight.
“We have been going through both an economic crisis and a democratic crisis. A totally discredited Fianna Fail/Green Government has tried to foist on the Irish people a five-year plan of savage cuts and a sell-out IMF/EU deal that will impoverish people in this country for years to come. The priority of the new Dail must be to reverse those disastrous measures.
“General Election 2011 must mark a sea-change in Irish politics. Sinn Fein will be at the forefront of that change.”