Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain, the party’s longest-serving elected representative in the 26 Counties, has confirmed he will not stand in the next general election.
Mr O Caolain was the first (Provisional) Sinn Fein representative to be elected to the Leinster House parliament in 1997, and has been re-elected every election since.
He announced his decision to stand down at a party meeting in Cootehill, County Cavan on Wednesday night. He said he was standing aside to facilitate a younger generation to come forward.
Mr O Caolain served as Sinn Fein’s sole representative from 1997 to 2002 and served as the party’s leader in the Dublin parliament until 2011.
A former bank official, he was first elected to Monaghan County Council in 1985. He was director of elections for Kieran Doherty, one of the H-Block hunger-strikers, who won a Dail seat in 1981.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald described Mr O Caolain as “a trailblazer and a principled Republican leader”.
Speaking at the meeting in Cavan, she said Caoimhghin O Caolain had “always been a source of great inspiration”. She said as a republican activist, he had made an enormous contribution to Sinn Fein, to Cavan and Monaghan and to Ireland.
“Dedicated to his community, an exemplary parliamentarian and a politician of the rarest kind, Caoimhghin has spent decades of his life selflessly working to better the lives of others,” she said.
“He took the values and politics to which he is so committed into the Dail, and even when he was alone, in the belly of the political establishment, Caoimhghin never shirked from the challenge.
“Caoimhghin O Caolain never let us down. He was the party’s Dail leader from 2002 to 2011. His leadership during that time is one of the reasons why the party has grown and achieved significant electoral success.”
Gerry Adams described Mr O Caolain as “one of the great stalwarts of Sinn Fein”.
“Caoimhghin is passionate about his politics, and compassionate in how he seeks to help those who are the victims of injustice and discrimination,” he said.
“His leadership during the hunger strikes of 1980 and 81, and in particular his role as Director of Elections in Cavan-Monaghan during the Anti H-Block campaign of 1981, were crucial in securing the election of Hunger Striker Kieran Doherty.
“As a councillor and a TD Caoimhghin has been a tireless representative for the people of Cavan-Monaghan and a diligent Teachta Dala in the Oireachtas.”
“I want to thank his wife Briege and their children Aisling, Sinead, Cliodhna, Deirbhile and Oran for their infinite patience and support for Caoimhghin.”