Gerry Adams has been Sinn Fein president since 1983
The Sinn Fein leader helped broker peace in Northern Ireland
After more than three decades at the helm, Gerry Adams announced Saturday his intention to stand down as the president of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein.
He made the announcement at Sinn Fein’s annual meeting in Dublin.
Adams – who was the face of the Sinn Fein – helped broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland in the 1990s by encouraging the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to agree to a ceasefire.
Known as the Good Friday Agreement, it ended a 30-year conflict known as the Troubles and ushered in a democratically elected assembly in Northern Ireland.
The agreement provided a political framework for power-sharing among the parties, effectively ending decades of bloody conflict between Protestant loyalists who wanted to stay part of the United Kingdom and Catholic nationalists who wanted to see the North united with the Republic of Ireland.
Before the thaw that led to peace, Adams and the Sinn Fein were roundly despised by those loyalists and the British government.
Sinn Fein was once considered the political wing of the IRA. Adams has denied he was ever a member of the militant organization, which admitted in 1999 to killing a number of people who became known as “the disappeared.”
Sinn Fein politicians sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast – a devolved legislature that is part of United Kingdom – and in the Dail, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
Sinn Fein is opposed to Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom and has long fought for a united Ireland.
Adams, 69, used his address at the party’s annual conference to call for unification and labeled the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union as “the single greatest threat to the Irish people in generations.”
Northern Ireland has become an important part of the United Kingdom’s Brexit negotiations.
The Republic of Ireland will remain a part of the European Union; however Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, is due to leave the EU. Questions around how a EU border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland could be implemented remain.
“You are the makers of the future. You are the nation builders. You are important. Never forget that,” Adams said in his address, according to a Sinn Fein transcript.
“Many comrades have given their entire lives to our struggle. They saw beyond the hardship of the moment and embraced hope. That resilience, like the peace process is opposed by those who uphold the status quo.”
Adams got involved with the group in the 1960s, had been suspected of being an Irish Republic Army leader in 1972 and was jailed without trial. He was released that year to participate in secret peace talks with the UK government but was jailed again after peace talks failed.
“After his re-arrest he tried to escape and was imprisoned. He was released in 1976,” the Sinn Fein website said..
He became Sinn Fein president in 1983.
Adams had been the elected representative for West Belfast in the British House of Commons from 1983 to 1992. Adhering to Sinn Fein policy, Adams never took his seat in order to avoid taking the obligatory oath of loyalty to the Queen of England.
He was shot and seriously wounded in 1984 during an assassination attempt. Sinn Fein said he was attacked by “a unionist death squad working in collusion with British intelligence.”
In 1988, he began talks with John Hume, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party, to settle the Northern Ireland conflict. A decade later, the historic Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was signed.
Adams was elected to the new Northern Ireland Asembly in 1998. He was elected in 2011 to the Dail, Ireland’s parliament. Adams also will not be standing for the Dail in the next election.
“Republicanism has never been stronger. This is our time. We will grow even stronger in the time ahead,” he said on Saturday, according to a Sinn Fein transcript.
Members of Sinn Fein gave a standing ovation in memory of Martin McGuinness, an Irish republican leader who died earlier this year.