Democratic Unionist deputy leader Nigel Dodds came under no pressure to rule himself out as party leader, a senior DUP figure has said.
The North Belfast MP’s announcement yesterday came as somewhat of a political surprise, as there was widespread speculation he would take over Mr Robinson’s party leadership role.
It had been thought Stormont Finance Minister Arlene Foster would then take on Mr Robinson’s role as Northern Ireland’s First Minister.
But Mr Dodds said he believed he was not best placed to lead the party, as he is not currently a member of the Stormont Assembly, and endorsed Ms Foster instead.
The long-serving MP, whose wife Diane Dodds is a European MP, said he felt “humbled” by those who had supported the idea of him taking over.
However, he said he felt it would be wrong to put his own personal standing ahead of what he thought was best for the DUP.
Jeffrey Donaldson said Mr Dodds’ choice to stand aside was “a difficult decision, but he has nothing but respect from myself and his party colleagues”.
Asked if any pressure had been put on him, Mr Donaldson said: “No pressure at all.
“This was Nigel’s own decision that he came to in his own time, and as he indicated himself, if he had been in the Assembly he wouldn’t have hesitated going for the leadership.”
He was speaking as it emerged that most eligible voters back Arlene Foster – with Mr Donaldson suggesting she is Peter Robinson’s preferred heir.
Mr Robinson, 66, announced his intention to resign last month, days after signing a political deal with Sinn Fein and the British and Irish governments to stabilise the power-sharing administration in Belfast.
Mr Dodds said: “Following Peter’s announcement that he was stepping down as leader and First Minister, I have been giving much prayerful thought to my own position and what is in the best interests of the party.”
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