The DUP last night signalled that its deputy leader Nigel Dodds will step down from the Northern Ireland Executive.
The party suffered a collapse in support in this week’s European election count and, following criticism of ‘double-jobbing’ politicians, promised a reshuffle to move MPs who currently also serve as government ministers.
Up to now however, it had been believed that Finance Minister and North Belfast MP Mr Dodds, whose wife Diane was the party’s European candidate, would survive the reshuffle.
During the election campaign DUP leader Peter Robinson announced plans to reorganise his ministerial pack, but did not fix an exact date for the move.
His party suffered criticism over the accumulated earnings of politicians who hold multiple posts such as MPs, Assembly members, ministers and councillors.
He said that he would keep one DUP member of parliament in the Executive with him and, until yesterday, it was believed that deputy leader Mr Dodds would be the one to remain.
But a DUP source has indicated that Mr Dodds was likely to be among those to leave the government, but did not point to any wider significance to the move or link it to the election campaign.
The election results were a major political blow for the DUP.
Sinn Fein won 26% of the vote and topped the poll, the first time a nationalist or republican party had emerged as the largest party in any Northern Ireland election.
This came after the DUP support plummeted from a 32% vote share in 2004 to 18.2%.
It suffered as a result of a poor voter turnout, which appeared to hit the unionist electorate more than nationalist areas.
The party was rocked by the performance of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) which won 13.7% of the vote in its first major electoral outing.
The three Northern Ireland seats in the European parliament went to Sinn Fein, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists and the DUP.
But TUV leader Jim Allister, who opposes power-sharing with Sinn Fein, said the story of the day had been his party’s performance.
Sinn Fein has said that the rise of hardline unionism should not distract the DUP from building a new future for all.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness warned the DUP it risked suffering the fate of deposed unionist leader David Trimble if it keeps looking over its shoulder at the hardline TUV.
“Really there are two choices to make here," he said. “One is that you try to out-TUV the TUV, and if you do that, in my opinion you're going nowhere.
“Or you move forward with a positive agenda that is about delivering for real people at a time of economic recession.”