The DUP has blasted “mischief-making” over a day-long silence from Peter Robinson after Ian Paisley announced he is set to retire as an MP.
Mr Paisley's announcement that he is stepping down from his North Antrim seat after 40 years prompted tributes yesterday from across the political spectrum, including warm praise from Gordon Brown and Martin McGuinness.
However, the day passed with no official statement from Mr Robinson, the man who succeeded him as First Minister and DUP leader, prompting TUV chief Jim Allister to claim that the DUP was riven by petty divisions.
The absence of a comment followed fresh speculation in recent weeks over friction between the Robinson and Paisley camps.
But a DUP spokesman said: “There is no story whatsoever. It's pure mischief-making on behalf of some people.”
The spokesman also pointed to previous tributes paid by Mr Robinson to Mr Paisley.
“He has indeed described him as a colossus of unionism,” he added.
“The party has known about Dr Paisley's decision for some time. It may have come as a surprise to some people yesterday, but we have been aware of it.
“The party is looking forward to the General Election when voters in North Antrim will have the choice of moving forward with the DUP or moving backwards with Jim Allister.”
MLA Ian Paisley Jnr is in line to stand for the North Antrim seat held by his father for four decades.
In his tribute yesterday, Mr McGuinness spoke about how he and Rev Paisley, dubbed the Chuckle Brothers, built up a good relationship “against people's wildest expectations”.
Mr Robinson was criticised at the start of the year for taking three days to comment on the death of former Catholic Primate Cardinal Cahal Daly.
Mr Allister today said: “It is apparent that the DUP is a party riven by petty divisions and personality classes.”
He claimed the DUP leader seemed to be “having another Daly moment”, stating: “One would have thought that after spending almost 40 years as leader of the DUP his successor to that position would having something to say on the retirement of Dr Paisley from Parliament.”
Mr Allister also suggested that “the telling absence of any support for Joint First Minister Robinson from the Paisley clan when the media spotlight was on his recent troubles has stung Mr Robinson”.