Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Saturday, 6 March 2010

Gerry Adams great survivor of Irish politics

Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland correspondent

Gerry Adams has endured a turbulent few months
Gerry Adams has endured a turbulent few months

The keynote speech by Gerry Adams to the Sinn Fein conference is expected to focus on the economic and political woes of the Irish Republic.

The message will be, it is time for change. But is Gerry Adams the right messenger?

He is now 61 years of age, and has been president of Sinn Fein since 1983.

When he was first elected to the job, Michael Foot was the Labour Party leader in the UK.

Many political leaders have come and gone in London, Belfast and Dublin in the past 27 years, but Mr Adams has remained.

He has led his party from the political wilderness to electoral dominance in Northern Ireland. But south of the border, the party's growth has stalled.

The loss of their only MEP in the Republic was a significant blow last year. Since then, four councillors have quit the party.

Many political leaders have come and gone in London, Belfast and Dublin in the past 27 years, but Gerry Adams has remained

It has led to questions from Irish political commentators as to whether Sinn Fein can ever re-build momentum in the Republic with the bearded Belfast man as party president.

Sinn Fein dismiss this as idle media chatter among bored journalists, and the theory that a politician from Northern Ireland can't win votes in the Irish Republic is branded "partitionist".

However, Mr Adams has endured a turbulent few months.

First, allegations surfaced about his brother, Liam, being involved in child abuse.

Then it emerged that their late father, Gerry Adams Senior, had abused children.

Recently, Gerry Adams revealed that his wife, Collette, was battling cancer.

In spite of all of these personal issues to deal with, he has rejected any talk of retirement.

"Obviously there is a time to go, but this is not the time," he said last month.

One by one, the main players in the peace process have exited the main political stage, from SDLP leader John Hume to Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to US President Bill Clinton to prime ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.

His beard is looking increasingly grey, but Gerry Adams is the great survivor.

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