Gerry Adams, president of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein, announced Saturday in Dublin that he will step down from the post in 2018.
The 69-year-old veteran of his party’s struggle to end the partition of Ireland told party members that a meeting would be called next year to elect a successor.
“Leadership means knowing when it is time for change and that time is now,” Adams said as he made the announcement, which was received by a standing ovation by party members.
Adams also said he will not seek re-election to the Irish parliament, the Dail, in the next general election.
Adams said his decision was part of an ongoing leadership transition in the party formulated with former Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness, who died in March. Already under the plan, Michelle O’Neill has taken the role of Sinn Fein’s leader in the Northern Ireland Parliament.
The announcement comes as Northern Ireland tries to form a new devolved government after inconclusive elections this year failed to break a power-sharing impasse.
Sinn Fein has worked with its rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) since 2007, but the arrangement collapsed in January after DUP leader Arlene Foster refused to cede to Sinn Fein’s demands to step aside.
Adams, who has led Northern Ireland’s second biggest political party for more than 30 years, played an important role in making the Irish Republican Army (IRA) agree to a permanent ceasefire in the 1990s. He has consistently denied he was ever a member of the group, but has justified killings carried out by the IRA.