Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson: Who will be the next leader of the DUP?

Peter Robinson Image copyright PA
Image caption Peter Robinson has resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Thursday's Belfast Telegraph interview with Peter Robinson revealing that he is to resign has increased the speculation about who will take over as his successor.

There is also some thought that the party leadership and the position of Northern Ireland first minister could be split between two people.

Two prominent candidates tipped to replace the former leader are Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster.

Nigel Dodds is the current deputy leader of the party and leader of the party at Westminster, while Arlene Foster has prior experience as acting first minister.


Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Arlene Foster at Stormont in 2015

Arlene Foster

Having served as first minister on a temporary basis in both 2010 and 2015, Arlene Foster has already had a taste of leading Northern Ireland's Executive.

A solicitor, Arlene Foster has made a rapid rise through the DUP's ranks since 2004 and is currently the Stormont Finance Minister.

She began her political career with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), however, transferred to the DUP not long after she was first elected to the assembly in 2003.

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Image caption Spelling it out at the DUP's annual party conference in 2014

Mrs Foster made the move after criticising the direction which the UUP were taking under the leadership of David Trimble.

A key ally to Peter Robinson, Mrs Foster has extensive experience at the negotiating table and addressing news conferences.

Her first experience of Troubles violence came when she was just eight years old.

Her father was a part-time policeman and was targeted by the IRA at the family farm.

"They shot him in the head as he was closing in the cattle," she said in a newspaper interview.

"He came crawling into the house, blood streaming down his face."

He survived the incident but the family had to move house and she had to join a new school.

As a teenager in 1988, a bomb exploded under her school bus.

It was being driven by a part-time UDR soldier.

A girl sitting near her was seriously injured.


Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Celebrating election victory in north Belfast

Nigel Dodds

As the current deputy leader of the DUP, Nigel Dodds knows all too well how the machinery of the DUP works.

In 1988, he was elected as the Lord Mayor of Belfast, at the age of 29.

His political success and profile soon secured him a seat at the local assembly. He was then elected as an MP for North Belfast in 2001.

Previously, he had spent time working in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and his wife, Diane, is currently one of Northern Ireland's three MEPs.

Presently he leads the party in the House of Commons.

There were moments in his personal life that would have had a profound effect on his attitude to republicans.

In 1996, while he and his wife were visiting his sick son, Andrew, at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in west Belfast, an IRA gunman got into the hospital and opened fire, hitting one of his police bodyguards in the foot. The couple escaped injury.

In a BBC interview earlier this year, Diane Dodds recalled: "On the night of the shooting, Andrew had been very ill and we were called very unexpectedly.

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Image caption Signing a book of condolence for Ian Paisley in 2014

"What the terrorists didn't know was that the police guards had gone separately.

"They didn't know the police would be there. It is despicable that these people could enter a ward and fire guns."

In 2003, the Continuity IRA left a bomb outside Mr Dodd's constituency office in north Belfast. No-one was hurt, but Dodds said it was an attack not just on him but on democracy.

He was in the spotlight in 2008 over his MP's expenses bill - the highest in Northern Ireland.

If Mr Dodds is successful, there is no indication as yet as to who might run for the deputy leader's position.