Editor's Viewpoint: Gerry Adams is taking a high-risk gamble
The decision by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams to give up his Stormont and Westminster seats to fight an election in the Republic is astonishing.
While there is no denying he is one of the most recognisable politicians on this island, it is not inevitable that his profile will translate into votes south of the border. Many remember his disastrous appearance on television in the last Irish general election when he appeared out of his depth on the Republic's economy.
He had built up an impenetrable fiefdom in west Belfast when he first won a Westminster seat in 1986 and an Assembly seat in 1998. It is the base from which he has gained unchallenged power in Sinn Fein and from where he and his closest allies plotted the switch from the IRA's armed struggle to political supremacy in the nationalist community. He, above everyone else, persuaded republicans to accept seats in the Dail and at Stormont and even, to lend their support to the PSNI.
But in recent times he has looked like a man without a mission. Martin McGuinness, as Deputy First Minister, is the political face of Sinn Fein and often appears to have a higher profile than his party leader.
Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy at Westminster means there is little profile for Mr Adams there and, after recent electoral set backs in the Republic, he probably feels this is the right time for him to make an impact there.
With political parties in the Republic in disarray given its economic chaos, there is an opportunity for Sinn Fein to make an impact at the next Irish general election. But Sinn Fein enjoys far less popular support south of the border than in Northern Ireland and it is by no means certain that it can significantly increase its vote.
Mr Adams is taking a high-risk gamble. If he fails to lead the party to a real breakthrough in the Republic, many may begin to question his political judgment and he could find himself in a political wilderness.