DUP MPs losing patience with Paisley

Today’s front page story in the Irish Times suggests that Ian Paisley may be under pressure to step down as First Minister of Northern Ireland sooner than he had planned.

Frank Millar reports that Paisley "will retire as a Westminster MP
at the British general election now widely expected in the summer
of next year."

As Slugger notes, a DUP spokesman has dismissed the story as ‘unfounded press speculation.’ Nevertheless, Millar, a former UUP general secretary and one of the most respected observers of Stormont affairs, is not lightly to be disregarded.

The idea that Paisley would step down rather than defend his North Antrim seat is intrinsically plausible given that he will be 82 in April. However, his preferred replacement is surely his son, fellow North Antrim MLA and junior Stormont minister, Ian Paisley Jr, and that may be something of a problem just now.

Ian Jr is currently embroiled in a major
over his relations with property developer Seymour Sweeney. New documents released yesterday to (ex-DUP) MEP Jim Allister show that he used valuable negotiating leverage at St Andrews to secure developments in his constituency.

It may be that these unpropitious circumstances tempted Paisley Sr to run again himself, prompting DUP MPs to intervene by briefing Millar. These MPs apparently fear that another Westminster term will delay Paisley’s departure as party leader

A majority of the DUP’s MPs are now privately indicating their
belief that this should be sooner rather than later, with some
advocating a handover as early as this summer in order to allow a
new leader to establish himself ahead of the general election in
which the party hopes to increase further its Westminster

However, these calculations cut across Dr Paisley’s declared
intention to serve his full four-year term as First Minister in
Northern Ireland’s powersharing Executive. (Ireland.com)

Millar suggests that there is no immediate prospect of a ‘heave’ against Paisley. That is probably true, although the North Antrim candidacy will be an interesting issue to watch. As ever with unionist leaders such internal pressures are likely to produce a more hardline stance, the most obvious focus in this case being devolution of policing and justice.

It probably would not bother any of the major players in the North if Paisley were to be replaced by his long-standing heir-apparent, Peter Robinson. A more troubling possibility is that Robinson’s emerging hardline rival, Nigel Dodds, could capitalise on grassroots disaffection with Paisley’s new ‘chuckle brothers‘ image.







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