Gerry Adams, the divisive politician known around the world as the face of the Irish republican movement as it shifted from violence to peace, announced Saturday that he was stepping down as leader of Sinn Fein next year after heading the party for over 30 years.
"Leadership means knowing when it's time for change, and that time is now", he told the conference which stood to applaud him.
He hinted at the announcement earlier in the year, stating he would lay out plans for his party's future as part of a ten-year transitional plan.
Mr Adams said the move was part of the ongoing process of leadership transition within the party.
"This is also my last Ard Fheis (party conference) as president of Sinn Fein", he said. Last night, he was re-elected to the position for the last time.
Mr Adams's importance to his party should not be underestimated.
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He paid special tribute to his wife Collette and son Gearoid.
The former West Belfast MP has been leader of Sinn Fein since 1983.
Sinn Fein has made steady gains in the Irish Republic in recent polls but many believe the prospects of further growth is limited due to the presence of Troubles era figures. Current deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was seen as a favorite to succeed Adams.
The party will debate over one hundred motions on justice, education and health, including motions on abortion, and one which would give party members a free vote on the issue.
Mr Adams also told delegates a referendum on Irish unity must take place within the next five years.
The conference was also the first since Mr McGuinness died in March.
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