The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, is retiring from politics. McGuinness has been a staple of politics in NI for many years.
Gerry Adams has been leader of Sinn Fein for decades. Adams took over the leadership of Sinn Fein, and, unofficially, of the PIRA (the main terrorist organization on the republican side in the troubles) in 1983. At about this time, Adams and McGuinness were elected to an attempted power sharing assembly in Northern Ireland which failed. This marked a change in SF from a leader born in 'the south', or the Republic of Ireland, to one born in 'the north' or Northern Ireland.
By 1996, McGuinness had been elected again to the assembly. This time, a power sharing assembly was successfully set up, with McGuinness as unofficial leader of SF.
It should be understood that SF does not see Ireland the way most people from outside Ireland do. Consider the Bloc. Every election here in Canada, poll after poll tells us that many in Quebec think the Bloc can take a majority of seats across the nation. How is this possible? Simple: The nation is, to them, just Quebec. By the same token, SF is a party across the entire island of Ireland. It is not in "both the Republic and Northern Ireland" it's just "in Ireland." With that context in mind, it's easy to see how McGuinness rose to become the unofficial leader in Northern Ireland while Adams remained the overall leader.
Consider as well that it was not until 1997 that SF elected it's first TD - member of the Irish Parliament. Consider as well that in SF's most successful election in Ireland under it's modern form (another party of the same name existed 100 years ago, the modern party considers itself a successor, but there are no official ties) was in 2016. And in 2016, the party took 13.8% of the vote across the Republic. Compare this to the worst election modern SF had in Northern Ireland. While the party did run in 1982, it was unwelcome, and 3/5ths of it's members were barred from taking their seats. As such, the 1996 election is the one I am comparing it to, even if this was an election to an assembly whose sole purpose was to write up an agreement to govern the assembly elected in the following year. In that election, they took 15.5% of the vote across all of Northern Ireland.
While this entire period had Gerry Adams as the undisputed leader of the party, it's not hard to see how McGuinness could easily be thought of as the "#2" especially in the North. Consider as well that in 1998, when the first executive (IE government) was formed in Stormont, Adams did not take a seat while McGuinness did. McGuinness would go on to become deputy First Minister in 2007, and remained in that post until his resignation a week ago.
Of course, there are minor caveats to that. Due to the nature of the agreement that NI operates under, very technical and specific procedures need to be followed. As such, when McGuinness ran for President of Ireland in 2011, he was officially replaced by John O'Dowd.
Given that Arlene Foster filled in, in a similar manner, for Peter Robinson, and then went on to succeed him as First Minister, and given O'Dowd's presence in the media, it is very likely that he will be SF's candidate for the office should they win the election and decide to enter into the coalition.
Tomorrow, barring more unexpected events, I will finally cover the history of Northern Ireland that lead us here, and what some of the background issues are.