Gerry Adams puts his career on line with a gamble on the South
Sinn Fein chief bids to boost his party’s fortunes in polls
Gerry Adams will put his political career and reputation on the line by dramatically quitting his West Belfast stronghold to stand for the Dail.
The Sinn Fein president will depart the Assembly almost immediately and resign as an MP once the next General Election is called in the Republic.
The shock decision is a game-changing bid by Mr Adams, aimed at reviving his party's badly flagging fortunes in the south and pushing Irish unity back up the political agenda.
But he has admitted that victory is not a certainty in the Louth seat he will be contesting.
“It's a risk but it's a calculated risk,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
His announcement signals the end of an era for politics in Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein.
Mr Adams won his first election in West Belfast in 1982 and has led the party to its dominant role in northern nationalism.
But his prominence for Sinn Fein has been eclipsed in recent years with Martin McGuinness taking its lead role in the Assembly as deputy First Minister.
Now aged 62, Mr Adams has been one of the major players in Northern Irish politics for decades.
He is following in the paths of other senior figures like John Hume, Ian Paisley and David Trimble in stepping away from frontline politics here.
He announced his Dail seat bid at the republican Edentubber commemoration in Co Louth yesterday.
He said Ireland is “at a crossroads” and the state “is in the midst of a deep economic and social crisis”.
“As leader of Sinn Féin, I want to be part of the necessary fight-back against bad economic policies in both parts of this island and for a fair, decent and united society for all the people of Ireland,” he said.
The party one holds one of four current seats in Louth, which includes Dundalk. Its current TD Arthur Morgan last week is stepping down at the next Dail election.
That election must happen by 2012 but there has been widespread speculation that the current Fianna Fail-Green coalition government will be forced to go to the polls next year.
Sinn Fein recently increased the pressure on beleagured Taoiseach Brian Cowen with a legal bid to force a parliamentary by-election in Donegal.
Mr Adams and his party will be hoping to capitalise on public anger at the Republic's financial crisis and swingeing public spending “austerity” cuts. But opinion polls have so far given Sinn Fein little encouragement.
An Assembly replacement for Mr Adams is due to be selected this week, clearing the way for his swift departure as an MLA.
Speaking to this newspaper, the Sinn Fein president said: “It isn't a guaranteed seat. I know that.”
Mr Adams said people are in distress at the scale of the financial crisis in the south and his party believes in stimulating the economy rather than “slashing it”.
He said: “We think we've another way of doing it. I think I have a duty to do it. It's a big wrench for me. My entire political base is in west Belfast. My whole life is there.”
Mr Adams said his candidacy would put Irish unity at the centre of the political agenda.
Asked if he was risking his legacy, he said: “I don't think in those terms.
“I just think that if you talk the talk you have to walk the walk. That's always been my position. It's a risk but it's a calculated risk.”
Mr Adams and his party have been attacked for years by the main parties in the Republic over its stance on the economy.
“The people who were saying that are the people who have caused the crisis,” he said.
“This isn't the time to be saying this, but we were right.”
He also ruled out Sinn Fein joining a future coalition government with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.
Mr Adams stressed that the peace process would remain a “huge focus” of his attention.
He will remain party president and “continue to work with Martin McGuinness in partnership”, he added.