DUBLIN — The resignation of Ian Paisley Jr. has prompted speculation that his octogenarian father, Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley Sr., will step down as well.
With his father at his side, the younger Mr. Paisley quit his post as junior minister last week over links to a real estate developer from whom he bought a house.
Known to locals as “Young Paisley,” he has not been cited for any crime nor has there been anything more than an implication of something inappropriate afoot.
Still, the scandal was enough to force him out of the Cabinet, although he will continue to serve in the national legislature.
The resignation cost Ian Paisley Sr., 82, the sprightly leader of Northern Ireland’s biggest pro-British political group — the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — support of a trusted aide.
Moreover, party insiders say the son’s departure is seen as removing one obstacle to deposing the his father.
The effort consists mainly of a behind-the-scenes whispering campaign, in which the local press corps plays a key role.
Ian Paisley Sr. has avoided comment, but he couldn’t resist during a recent visit to Scotland when reporters kept firing questions.
“I have a fairly hard rhinoceros skin, and I think I will not be skinned by you or the likes of you,” he told reporters.
He retains plenty of support.
Ireland Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said he should stay in his job as long as possible.
“I would personally like to see Dr. Paisley remain on,” Mr. Ahern said, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. “The DUP, like any other political party, has its own internal machinations. It is a robust party and will make its own decisions in due course.”
Not unexpectedly, Baroness Eileen Paisley came to her husband’s defense.
“He is doing a jolly good job,” she told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper. “His health is excellent, his mind is sharp, and his body is strong.”
Ian Paisley Sr. was a latecomer to Northern Ireland’s peace process.
He refused to sign the 1998 peace deal, which was cemented by a working alliance between the moderate parties on both sides — the Ulster Unionist Party and the Catholic-based Social Democratic and Labor Party — led by that years’ Nobel Peace laureates David Trimble and John Hume respectively.
But the political reconciliation was working, and the regional government promised to Belfast in 1998 was restored, with Mr. Paisley as first minister and sharing executive power with Martin McGuinness, reportedly a longtime commander in the militant Irish Republican Army (IRA).
At a scheduled investment conference in May, Ian Paisley Jr. and Mr. McGuinness are slated to host U.S. executives who have visited Northern Ireland to discuss political opportunities.
Ireland’s economic boom since the mid-1990s, fueled by investments from U.S. multinationals such as Dell, Intel and Google, all of which have substantial operations there.
Green with envy, both Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland want in on their neighbor’s prosperity and are hoping that Northern Ireland’s newfound stability will lure U.S. investors.
Jeffrey Donaldson, whom some consider a future first minister, was sworn in to take the post of Ian Paisley Jr.
Mr. Donaldson said of Ian Paisley Sr.:
“He is the first minister and party leader, and in terms of any future change in either of those positions, that’s a matter for the party, not a matter for me as an individual.”
Sinn Fein, considered the political arm of the IRA, has been quiet about the whole affair.