DUP old guard rallies behind Foster as 30 propose her for leader
The old guard of the DUP has thrown its weight behind Arlene Foster in her attempt to succeed Peter Robinson as party leader, making her bid to be the first woman in charge of the party virtually unassailable.
The DUP crown was as good as won for the former Ulster Unionist at around 8pm on Monday, when First Minister Mr Robinson tweeted: "Arlene's nomination was submitted with the support of over 75% of those entitled to vote."
It amounted to a laying-on of hands by the last leader on his chosen successor.
"I have been very humbled by the amount of support I have received in a very short space of time and I very much look forward to leading the party, if that is the wish of the party," she said.
"I believe I have the ability and vision to take this party forward into the next 100 years of Northern Ireland."
The scale of her advantage became clear when the names of those who had nominated her started to drift out.
They include Lord Morrow, Jim Shannon MP, David Simpson MP, Rev Willie McCrea and Gregory Campbell MP (below). In all, there were more than 30 proposers out of an electoral college of 46.
What is significant is that the people listed were all old-time DUP members.
Ms Foster was in the UUP until she defected with Jeffrey Donaldson and others in 2004.
Mr Donaldson also signed her papers, as might have been expected, but the other signatures are more significant because they would have been the natural support base for a challenger.
They all came to Ms Foster, some of them in a scramble, after Nigel Dodds caught many by surprise and ruled himself out of the race.
The North Belfast MP is deputy leader, and although he is 12 years her senior at 57, he was looked upon as a natural for the top job.
But there had been hints to the contrary.
Last year he gave an interview to researchers for a book on the DUP saying he did not think the party could be led most effectively from Westminster.
He added that had he been in Stormont, he would have liked the job. Even so, he allowed expectations to build and was practically anointed by Mr Robinson when he praised his deputy at the DUP conference last month.
It then seemed a done deal that Ms Foster would be First Minister and Mr Dodds party leader.
Ms Foster hinted that Mr Dodds could stay on as deputy leader.
"We will still hopefully work together as a team and that is certainly my wish for the future," Ms Foster said.
The Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said it appeared that Ms Foster would "in all probability" be the next DUP leader and the First Minister.
Last Wednesday East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said he had been tempted to stand for the leadership but was supporting Mr Dodds as the best candidate for the job.
Those plans were thrown into confusion on Monday when Mr Dodds announced he was not putting himself forward.
"I am previously on record as stating clearly my view about the disadvantage of attempting to lead a modern Northern Ireland party from Westminster when we now have devolved Government," Mr Dodds said.
"I believe that the best way forward is to back Arlene Foster as leader of our party going forward."
Ms Foster has acted as stand-in First Minister on two occasions when Mr Robinson had to take a break, once during the 'Irisgate' scandal and again after his heart attack earlier this year.
Other potential candidates have until 5pm to consider standing.