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Life after lan Paisley.

SENIOR Democratic Unionists are hopeful today there will be a seamless hand over from the Rev Ian Paisley to the next leader of his party following his decision to stand down after 37 years.

Mr Paisley announced yesterday he would quit as leader and Stormont First Minister in May.

He will remain as the MP and Assembly member for North Antrim.

Stormont Finance Minister and DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson is the strong favourite to take over.

Economy Minister Nigel Dodds has also been mentioned as a possible leadership candidate.

But senior sources predicted today there would be no divisive contest, with 59-year-old Mr Robinson likely to take over as leader and First Minister and 49-year-old Mr Dodds becoming deputy.

"In theory, there could be a contest," one source said.

"However, my hunch is there won't be. I would suspect Peter Robinson will be party leader.

"There would be a view that after almost 29 years of waiting in the wings he has earned the right."

Under DUP rules, the party's Assembly group will have the first say on who becomes leader.

Party officers will convene an annual meeting of the Assembly group to choose a leader and deputy leader.

Senior sources speculated this meeting could take place just before the investment conference to guarantee a smooth hand over.

Their recommendation will go to the party executive for approval.

"It is unlikely the party executive would reject the Assembly group's choice," another source insisted.

Mr Paisley announced yesterday he would stand aside after an investment conference between May 7 and 9 aimed at American businesses, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern are expected to attend.

Mr Paisley said he had decided to stand down after the conference because it seemed to be the most appropriate time for him to quit, but would not be drawn on who should take over.

He said "I have no right to say who will succeed me.

"The person will succeed me when the mark is on the paper and the ballot is cast. Whoever that will be will have my support."

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DRIVE: Rev lan Paisley in 1974, left, and making his announcement yesterday
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 5, 2008
Words:365
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