In the last hour the Sinn Féin MLA Martin McGuinness, the former deputy first minister in the power-sharing executive at Stormont, has announced his decision not to contest the forthcoming election for the north-eastern assembly, citing ill-health as the primary cause.
“Last year, Gerry Adams and I confirmed that we had a plan in place for transition to a new leadership. For my part, it was my intention to step aside in May this year which would have marked 10 years since I entered government with Ian Paisley as joint leader of the northern Executive.
Unfortunately, my health and the current crisis have overtaken this timeframe and I am stepping down from my role to make way for a new leader of Sinn Féin in the North.
Over the last ten years I have worked tirelessly to make power-sharing work.
The institutions are now in a deep crisis as a result of recent events and we are facing into an election when the people will have their say.
After long and careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for a new generation of republicans to lead us into this election and the negotiations that will follow.
Sinn Féin is a party in constant development, renewal and evolution.
Our struggle for freedom and equality stretches back to the United Ireland movement of the 1790s. I am deeply proud of the democratic influences that Ulster Presbyterianism contributed to the Irish republican tradition.
It remains my own personal and political ambition to break the link with Britain and to unite all who share this island under the common banner of Irish men and women.
I am deeply proud of the generation of Irish republicans that came before us. A generation that kept the vision of freedom alive through the difficult post-partition era when they faced unrelenting repression and persecution from the Ulster Unionist Party in an apartheid Orange state.
I have been privileged to be part of the generation that broke that apartheid state apart and to have been part of a Sinn Féin leadership that delivered peace and radical change. There are more republicans today than at any time in my generation.
I look across the party north and south and see energy, determination, talent and potential new leaders emerging who, I am confident, will deliver equality, respect and Irish unity.
My obvious heath issues are being addressed by a superb team of national health service doctors and nurses.
But I want to be open and honest with my friends and colleagues in Sinn Féin, with the electorate of Foyle and with the wider community beyond my own constituency. I also want to be fair to my family and to the teams of carers who are doing their best to provide me with the treatment I now require to deal with this very serious medical condition which I am very determined to overcome.
Unfortunately, I am not physically able to continue in my current role and have therefore decided to make way for a new leader.
This election is the right time for me to move aside so I will not seek re-election to the Assembly.
I have full confidence in the strong team that we have built in the Assembly to carry forward the work of building institutions that deliver for all our people on the basis of equality, respect and integrity.
A new leader will lead us into this Assembly election and into the negotiations that will inevitably follow on from that election.
We need the strongest Sinn Féin team if we are to ensure the progressive change which is now an essential next step forward and our new leader will have my full and undivided support in the weeks and months ahead.
We are on a journey to unite our people and unite our island.
As a Sinn Féin activist I will continue to play a full and enthusiastic part in that essential process of building bridges, of dialogue and of reconciliation between our still divided people.
Despite the current difficulties and challenges, I am confident and optimistic about the future. We have faced more difficult times and found a way forward.
As a society we have made enormous progress.
We must continue to move forward. Dialogue is the only option.”