Peter Robinson is finished, says Sinn Fein's Danny Morrison. Keep your nose out, replies the DUP
A senior DUP figure last night told former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison to keep his nose out of DUP business.
Assembly Member Nelson McCausland was responding to a claim from Mr Morrison that First Minister Peter Robinson was "finished".
The republican commentator said on Twitter: "Peter Robinson is finished. Sinn Fein now need to work out who is the next credible leader of unionism with whom to do business."
The one-time republican movement spin-doctor is now an author and a director of Feile an Phobail, the West Belfast community festival.
Mr McCausland told the Belfast Telegraph that Mr Morrison's claim was no more than an attempt to divert attention from Sinn Fein's falling poll ratings in the Republic.
"Mr Morrison has more than enough on his plate with Sinn Fein's current difficulties over welfare reform and their falling approval ratings in the Republic of Ireland, where their support has fallen by 20% in the opinion polls," the MLA claimed.
Mr Morrison's assessment on the DUP leader came as the First Minister has been under considerable strain, and his recent heart attack and last week's hospitalisation have led to increased concerns over the state of his health.
But Mr Robinson put his health problems to one side to lead his party's talks delegation in crunch negotiations at Stormont which began on Monday.
Like most of Northern Ireland's political leaders, Mr Robinson (66) is not a young man, and the strain of a life spent in Northern Ireland's political bear pit is undeniably beginning to show.
Addressing the issue of who might succeed Mr Robinson as DUP leader were he to retire, leading political commentator Alex Kane said: "The real issue is that there is no one waiting in the wings who would be any different.
"There are younger people in the DUP who one could see as future party leaders - Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds, Simon Hamilton - but the difference would just be one of personality, not politics."
All the leaders of political parties at Stormont with the sole exception of the Green Party's Steven Agnew are either in their 60s or very near it. Mr Robinson is the same age as Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, while Alliance chief David Ford is 64.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt is 57 and unionist firebrand Jim Allister is 62.
Political careers in Northern Ireland often last an extraordinarily long time, Mr Kane said.
Mr Adams became president of Sinn Fein 32 years ago and was in the leadership of the republican movement for over a decade before that.
"Even if Robinson goes, and there is no one in the DUP briefing against him that I am aware of, there are no new, dynamic leaders waiting in the wings," said Mr Kane. "There are newer, younger people, but no new thinking. That's the real political disaster." And the position is much the same in Sinn Fein, said Mr Kane.
"I can't think of one new person who, if they were leader, would have a radically different approach," he said.
"The younger Sinn Fein people are basically Adams without the beard."
A leadership contest also looks to be a certainty for this year's SDLP conference as Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood squares up to Mr McDonnell.
That struggle, too, is about personality, rather than politics, said Mr Kane.
"I'm not sure that Colum Eastwood's leadership bid would amount to much more than 'I'm not Alasdair McDonnell'."
Mr Robinson has hinted that he would like to step down some time in the future - and many commentators say that could be after he leads his party into the next Assembly elections, which are due to be held next May.
However, he wants to be able to step away from politics knowing that he has handed a strong and healthy party to his replacement.