Northern Ireland

Is Sinn Féin leadership a one-horse race?

Gerry Adams
Image caption Loved or loathed, Gerry Adams' influence on his party is undeniable

Gerry Adams has been the president of Sinn Féin for 34 years - an incredibly long time in modern political terms.

Mr Adams brought his party's ard fhéis (annual conference) to a dramatic, but expected, closure on Saturday with the news that he would not stand again as Sinn Féin president.

He will not stand again in his Dáil (Irish parliament) constituency either, ending his front-line involvement in politics.

Mr Adams told BBC News NI's political editor Mark Devenport he did not mind "how history judges me".

"I won't be around to appreciate it, so I don't really care," he said.

Questioned about whether the IRA campaign had helped or hindered Irish unity, Mr Adams said people would not have the rights they have at the moment if there had not been "armed resistance to what was going on."

However, he argued that "the big achievement of the IRA" was that it had the maturity and the courage to embrace and accommodate "an alternative way forward".

Mr Adams pledged that for as long as his health allows, he will play whatever role he can.

Commentators seem unanimously agreed that Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald is the only realistic candidate likely to succeed him.

She is the sole Sinn Féin politician whose profile even approaches that of Gerry Adams, especially given that fellow high profile TD (member of Irish parliament) Pearse Doherty has ruled himself out of contention.

Image caption Pearse Doherty has ruled himself out of running for Sinn Féin president - for now

Speaking to Irish national broadcaster RTÉ, the Donegal South West TD said he had a young family, and now was not the right time for him to lead the party.

He added that he was humbled that his name was being associated with the leadership and described as "ridiculous" claims that he had been told not to run for the position.

Sinn Féin's leader north of the border, Michelle O'Neill, has also ruled herself out of the election. She said she had enough to do in her current role.

Who is Mary Lou McDonald?

Mary Lou McDonald, 48, is from Rathgar, an affluent area in south Dublin.

She was educated at a private fee-paying school.

Originally a member of Fianna Fáil, she was elected a Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Central in 2011 after two unsuccessful attempts to get elected to the Irish parliament.

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Media captionMary Lou McDonald was suspended from the Irish parliament for refusing to take her seat

Since then she has emerged as a passionate performer in the Dáil, often embroiled in bitter clashes with other high profile politicians, insuring a high media profile.

Interestingly, given that legislation on the Irish language has emerged as the key issue preventing an agreement to facilitate the return of the Stormont Assembly, Ms McDonald speaks little Irish, a skill that is traditionally seen as a pre-requisite to becoming Taoiseach (Irish prime minister).

She has sat on Sinn Féin's ard comhairle (high council) since 2001.

Ms McDonald took prominent role at Sinn Féin's ard fhéis, as would be expected from the vice president.

However, Gerry Adams did not declare his support for her becoming the next leader. In fact, he did not mention her at all in his presidential address.

Conor Murphy is a former IRA prisoner, a former member of parliament for Newry and Armagh and is currently an MLA for the area.

He is the only other leading republican who has been mentioned in terms of the Sinn Féin leadership in the past.

He has not yet categorically ruled himself out of contention, saying that regardless of who becomes the next leader, "the party will go on".

He said that Gerry Adams and the late Martin McGuinness have left Sinn Féin with a strong leadership.

"There are people of huge capabilities to take forward the leadership and we have always had, even with two very strong people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, a collective leadership," he said.

"That will continue."

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