THE SDLP's Sean Farren is to quit mainstream politics and the search is now on to find his successor.
The North Antrim MLA announced to the party's Assembly Group that he will not contest the Assembly election to be held in March.
He said: "After thirty years, the party and politics are in my blood, but I have turned 67 and I would also like to pursue some other political objectives. Specifically, I have been involved in political and social development in Africa and the intention is to follow up on this work, possibly in Sierra Leone where I have spent five years teaching early in my career.
"But that is for the medium-term future. In the short term I will be working hard for the success of the party in the forthcoming election, particularly in my own constituency where we will select candidates in December.
"It has been a privilege to contribute to the struggle for enlargement of the democratic space in the north. Now that the conflict has ended and a full return of democratic institutions is again within our grasp, I have the greatest confidence that the SDLP has a major role to play in politics and government in Northern Ireland and in paving the way to a truly united Ireland.
"I would like to thank all those who supported me and helped me over the years, both family and party colleagues, and most particularly the electorate in North Antrim who put their faith in me in successive elections over the past 30 years."
Married to Patricia and father of Orla, Ciara, Niamh and Ronan, Sean has been a member of the SDLP since the early 1970s. Born in Dublin, he moved North in 1970 to take up a position in the University of Ulster where he was a member of the School of Education until entering politics full-time in 1998. He has served the party at branch, constituency and executive levels. As a member of the executive he served as Vice-Chair and as Chair from 1977-1984.
Sean Farren's public career began when he was elected to Coleraine Borough Council where he served from 1977-1981. Elected to the 'Prior' Assembly for North Antrim in 1982 he has been the SDLP's candidate for that constituency in every Westminster and Assembly election since 1979.
He served as a member of the SDLP delegation to the New Ireland Forum in 1983-84; a member of the party's delegation to the talks with Sinn Fein in 1988; a member of the delegation to the Brook-Mayhew talks in 1991-92 and to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in 1994-96.
In 1996 he was elected a member of the party's negotiating team to the inter-party negotiations and was a senior member of the negotiating team in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement.
Elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998 he was nominated Minister for Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment (Department for Employment and Learning) in November 1999, and then became Minister for Finance in 2001.
As SDLP representative in North Antrim Sean has built up a strong organisational base, which has seen the party's electoral strength grow considerably. The party's vote now stands at over 8,000 and in the recent local government elections ten councillors were elected from a team of sixteen, among them four new councillors, three of whom are women. A further seat was added in the February 2003 By-election, making the SDLP the largest party in the Council.
Within the party Sean has made significant contributions to policy development both in terms of overall political and constitutional relations but also on educational and economic issues. As spokesperson on the economy he played a very significant role in the development of the SDLP's approach to fair employment legislation as well as to economic development generally.
A fluent Irish speaker, Sean is committed to promoting the language and in particular enhancing educational and training facilities for Irish speakers.
He is author of 'The Politics of Irish Education 1920-1965' and co-author with Bob Mulvihill of 'Paths to a Settlement in Northern Ireland'.