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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Not the retiring kind
Robin Sheeran
Robin Sheeran
The Politics Show Northern Ireland

Ian Paisley
It's been a long road to retirement from the cloth
Reverend Ian Paisley recently announced that he is to step down as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church. His decision has raised questions about the veteran politician's bedrock support.

BBC Northern Ireland's Political Correspondent Martina Purdy reports for Politics Show on the threatened schism within the church and its repercussions for the Democratic Unionist Party.

Walk-off or abdicate?

When a man in his eighties decides to hang up his boots the reaction is usually one of surprise that he kept working for so long.

However, Ian Paisley is no common-or-garden octogenarian.

Did anyone really expect him to walk away from the leadership of the church he founded in 1951?

Perhaps "abdicate" would be a better term, given that Dr Paisley was born in the same year as the Queen and has been at the helm of his church even longer than she has been head of the Church of England.

Crisis political?

Following a torrid presbytery meeting, Dr Paisley admitted to his congregation that the church was facing "a very real crisis".

He chose to keep the day job at Parliament Buildings rather than risk a walkout of the faithful.

A group calling itself Concerned Free Presbyterians has been at the forefront of the moves to separate the church from its leader's political activities and to get him to quit as moderator.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness
Who would have thought..?

They cannot stomach his going into government with Sinn Fein.

The war of words waged from the group's website appears to have ended.

Its homepage now informs the reader that the site has been "put beyond use".

Unionists hostile?

Some have seen the opposition within the church to Paisley's political stance as symbolic of a growing hostility within the unionist community as a whole.

Jim Allister, the Euro MP who quit the DUP, said recently it was inevitable that a new force would arise within unionism.

So, has the turmoil in the church rattled the cage of DUP leaders?

Not if Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson is to be believed. "I don't see how forming a new unionist party is going to change anything," he tells Martina.

Politics Show

Be sure to join presenter Jim Fitzpatrick for Politics Show from Northern Ireland - Sunday 16 September 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

You get a second chance to see the programme again that night, at 22:55 BST on BBC One.

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