Today Ian Paisley (left) has officially announced that he will step down from his position as First Minister of the North in May. He said that he would also resign as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which he has led for almost 40 years. He will however continue as MP and MLA for North Antrim for the time being.
Paisley, who will be 82 in April, stood already down as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church (which he himself had founded in 1951 as a religious splinter group after a controversy with the mainstream Presbyterian Church) in January. This resignation came amidst concerns about his dual role as the church's leader and First Minister, a position the former "Dr. No" eventually accepted last May, following the suspension of direct rule after a five year period of political stalemate in the North.
Today's announcement followed speculations that senior DUP members have been "unhappy" about the appointment of Paisley's son, Ian Paisley Jr (right), to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, only days after he resigned as a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Executive. This resignation was triggered by heavy criticism over links to developer Seymour Sweeney and controversy over favouritism and lobbying activities. It remains to be seen if Paisley Jr will at a later stage try a political come-back, and perhaps even attempt to inherit his father's positions as DUP leader and First Minister.
For now, however, he is out of the political main frame, and it is widely expected that Ian Paisley's long-time deputy Peter Robinson (left) will succeed him as party leader and First Minister. Robinson, currently Minister for Finance in the Northern Ireland Executive, is widely regarded as the brain and chief strategist of the DUP, but he has also the reputation of being "the most humourless man in the North".
Asked about his expected successor, Paisley remained tight-lipped today. "This is not Apostolic succession and I have no right to say who will succeed me," he said, adding that it was up to the DUP to make the decision.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) said his ministerial colleague's move was "not unexpected" and stated that "the historic decision he took to go into government with us has changed the face of Irish politics forever."
On hearing the news, Bertie Ahern said that he did not expect Mr. Paisley's decision would affect the future of the power-sharing government. "I honestly believe devolution will last, because I believe there are very pragmatic people in all of the parties," the Taoiseach said in Dublin.
The Emerald Islander