Sinn Fein has denied that Gerry Adams might be prepared to step down as party leader in the run-up to the Irish general election, despite mounting speculation.
Sources say Mr Adams (68) is considering stepping aside as he continues to be linked to IRA-related controversies.
The party has cancelled its Ard Fheis next month and there has been growing speculation among republicans in Belfast that Mr Adams is about to announce that he is stepping aside to allow the 'softer' face of Sinn Fein to emerge.
But a Sinn Fein spokesman said last night: "Gerry Adams will be contesting the next election as leader of Sinn Fein to represent the people of Louth and to lead a progressive government to deliver a fair recovery."
Adams is seen by an increasing number of members of his own party in the Republic as a liability to the party's electoral hopes, according to republican and security sources.
While the likely candidate to replace him here is party vice-president Mary Lou McDonald, sources also say the relatively little-known Donegal Sinn Fein man, Pat Doherty, is also a possible replacement should Adams decide to officially 'retire'.
Sources say, however, it would be more likely that Mary Lou McDonald would become the leading face of Sinn Fein until an official leadership contest was held at a party conference after the general election.
Doherty preceded Ms McDonald as vice-president for 11 years. But despite a relatively low-key political existence in Northern Ireland, he is said to be one of the key leadership figures in the 'republican movement'.
Doherty was named in the 1998 libel case, taken by Thomas 'Slab' Murphy against Times Newspapers, as a member of the IRA leadership by former 'Southern Command' leader and Garda informant, Sean O'Callaghan.