Mary Lou McDonald will succeed Gerry Adams as Sinn Fein leader, the party has confirmed, and will formally ascend to the leadership at a special Ard Fheis [conference] next month.
The move completes a long-planned transition for the party as it retires a generation with ties to the armed struggle, and advances a new and more political leadership. It was confirmed at a meeting of the party’s Ard Chomhairle in Belfast this morning [Saturday].
After over three decades in charge, Mr Adams announced that he would step down as Sinn Fein President last November.
Speaking at a local party AGM, where he introduced Mary Lou McDonald as Sinn Fein President-elect, Mr Adams said the event marked an important point in the development and evolution of Sinn Fein.
“I want to thank all of those, including many of you in this room, who have worked with me during my 35 years as Uachtaran Shinn Fein [Sinn Fein President].
“I value your friendship, your advice and your activism. I believe we can be very proud of our successes during that time.
“My decision to step down is part of Sinn Fein’s ten-year plan for the regeneration and renewal of the party. It is also part of the outworking of conversations Martin McGuinness and I had almost two years ago to manage the necessary generational change within the party leadership.
“This is essential if we are to continue to grow electorally and organisationally; foster reconciliation between the people of this island, and with our nearest offshore neighbour and achieve our historic goal of ending partition and reuniting our divided island.”
[The full text of Mr Adams’s speech, believed to be his last as President of Sinn Fein, is included below.]
Speaking afterwards, Ms McDonald said she was “proud and honoured”. She said she “did not for a moment underestimate the scale of this undertaking on a personal and political level”.
“I grew up watching Gerry Adams on the telly, l would certainly never have guessed that come February 10 2018, that I would be the boss of him,” she said.
“The truth is no-one will ever fill Gerry Adams’ shoes, but the news is that I brought my own.
“I will fill my shoes, I will walk in my shoes and we together over the coming years will walk a journey that is full of opportunities, full of challenges but I believe which marks a defining epoch, a defining chapter in our achievement of a united Ireland and the ending of partition.”
Ms McDonald said she believed Irish unity was the best solution “for all of our people including our unionist brothers and sisters”.
She said Sinn Fein was entering a new era and could look forward with confidence.
“I want to see Sinn Fein in government north and south,” she said. “But it will be government based on equality, government that respects the rights of citizens, that delivers prosperity and opportunity for all and reflects our republican ideals.
“To do that we need to continue to grow and develop, embracing new ideas while remaining true to our vision.”