McDonald to replace Adams as Ireland's Sinn Fein chief

Gerry Adams has been Sinn Féin leader since 1983

Gerry Adams has been Sinn Féin leader since 1983

After almost 35 years at the head of the Irish republican party, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is set to be replaced by his deputy, Mary Lou McDonald, in party elections next month.

Sinn Féin's ard comhairle will meet in Belfast today as part of preparations for the ard fheis, where they will also formally ratify the nominee for president and are expected to discuss whether to open nominations for vice-president.

A special party conference to elect a new leader will be held on 10 February.

McDonald continued; "The truth is, many friends have correctly said to me that I have big shoes to fill, but the truth is no one will ever fill Gerry Adams' shoes".

She added: "I never thought come February 10 I would be the boss man".

Ms McDonald had criticised Mr McElduff but described the three-month suspension handed down by the party as "appropriate and proportionate".

McDonald, 48, the left-wing party's deputy leader, was confirmed as the sole candidate to take over from Adams, 69, at a party meeting on Saturday. But the news is that I brought my own. I will walk in my shoes.

"If you wanted this job, you're too late", Mr Adams quipped as he introduced his successor. "It is my view that this does not help anyone except a small minority of bigots", he said.

She also said: "I believe we are capable of achieving anything that we set our minds to". Mr Adams said his deputy would enter the fray at a "very polarised and very toxic" time in Irish politics but said that there was "no merit" in disengaging from talks with unionists. We are agents for change and it is up to us to find the ways and means to create more of this positive change.

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