Allowing time for a new Sinn Fein leader to prepare for an election in the Republic was the sole reason for his decision to stand down, Gerry Adams has said.
After 34 years as party president, at the Sinn Fein ard fheis in November Mr Adams formally announced his decision to step aside.
Delegates at the annual gathering voted to hold an extraordinary ard fheis to elect his replacement – with Mr Adams later telling RTE that the new way of selecting a leader would be more transparent that before.
In a statement released on Fridday, Mr Adams said he had every confidence in Michelle O’Neill as the party’s leader north of the border, and that a united Ireland remains Sinn Fein’s “primary political and strategic” objective.
“I was and am entirely confident and comfortable in the ability of Michelle O’Neill and her team in the North to negotiate with the DUP, the British and Irish governments and manage the challenge of finding a resolution to the crisis here,” he said.
February 10 has been set as the date to elect the new leader.
Under the statement heading ‘Looking for a job?,’ Mr Adams said his replacement “will face many challenges, some of these internal to the party as we seek to continue to grow in political strength and improve the skills of our activists,”
He said: “Some suggested that my departure could take up to a year or that I wouldn’t stand down until the negotiations in the north had concluded, for good or ill. I have to say that none of that played any part in my decision. My one consideration was to provide the new leader with sufficient time to prepare him or herself for the next general election in the south.”
Mr Adams said there are also “external challenges” facing the new leader.
“These include the need to agree a positive outcome to the negotiations to restore the power sharing, partnership institutions in the north; the all-island bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement; preparing the party for a general election in the 26 counties and potential elections in the north; and charting a course through the madness that is Brexit,” he said.
Leadership candidates require the support of at least ten of the 300 or so local Sinn Fein branches, with each one sending three voting delegates, or at least two of the next highest tier in the leadership structure (comhairle ceantair). Each of the 12 governing body (ard chomhairle) members have one vote each, with up to 1,200 members in total taking part in the process.
Mr Adams has also announced that he will not be seeking re-election to the Dail as TD for Louth. In an interview with the Irish Times, he also said he has “no intention or desire” of dictating policy to the new leadership.