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Divide and conquer, perhaps? DUP are planning to replace outgoing leader with two people

By Liam Clarke

Published 20/11/2015

The chances are that the next leader of the DUP will not be First Minister because the post will be split for the first time. At the very least they will be considered separately.

For years the DUP has been railing against Sinn Fein for going running to its leader Gerry Adams, who is outside the Assembly, and their Ard Comhairle in Dublin to have decisions ratified.

Privately many felt this gave Sinn Fein an unfair advantage.

It allowed the party to negotiate as far as it could without giving its own bottom line and then come back with more demands. It also allowed for time to think and provided a cooling-off period in the case of hasty decisions.

It made it impossible for Sinn Fein to be bounced, as the small parties say they were over the current agreement. They just had an hour or so to consider it.

The thought now is that an MP, probably Nigel Dodds, the current deputy leader, would be in overall charge. Then an MLA cold be First Minister. Arlene Foster is favourite because she has filled in for Peter Robinson when he had to take a break twice before.

There is also the possibility of other hats in the ring. Both Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell, the latter on the religious right of the party, are fancied by some for leader. Others point to Simon Hamilton as a possible First Minister.

We won't know that until the New Year when the party officers will make the decision, not the general membership. Officers include internal posts and also all full-time elected representatives. This formula is compared by some to the democratic centralism operated by communist parties, but doing things in back rooms instead of the glare of publicity does encourage agreement.

When Ian Paisley, the DUP's only previous leader, was replaced, there were a lot of rumours of a bruising contest but in the end it was a coronation of Mr Robinson with no rivals mentioned. Everyone expressed support afterwards too.

Of course there was eventually resentment from Dr Paisley, who retired to the Lords at the age of 84. He claimed he had been pushed out with work still to do.

Mr Robinson may be temperamentally better suited to letting go of political power. He has always been acutely aware that everything, especially in politics, is temporary.

He anticipates that, after a break away, he will be getting into other pursuits. He has also kept a diary for much of his career and a memoir of his 40 years in politics could be a tempting project.

After two terms he believes he has left a considerable legacy and the party is in good shape for whoever takes over.

He stated: "We have been able to meet almost all the bids that were made for additional funding from departments" as a result of the deal. He predicts that over the coming weeks "you will see the potholes being filled; you will see the waiting lists being shortened. All of those things will happen because we have taken responsible decisions in relation to finance".

Financial probity will be monitored by an Independent Fiscal Council which can call foul if a minister is overspending and offer direction.

"I am quite comfortable with having a body looking at our spending plans, giving us advice on how to do better," he said.

Another discipline will be the date (April 2018) and rate (12.5%) for the devolution of Corporation Tax. Since we have to pay for the loss of revenue to the exchequer we have to make sure that our books are balanced so that is not endangered.

He said: "I know from Invest Northern Ireland that there are a number of companies who have indicated that as soon as there is some certainty around the issue that they will take the decision to come here. That should happen over the next couple of months."

He also predicted good cooperation with the Republic. "There has never been a time when we have had a better relationship with the Republic. It is free, it is relaxed and it is non-threatening. There is a level of respect going in both directions that never existed before," he added.

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