Ian Paisley Jnr has chosen now to add his opinion on the future leadership of the DUP. He believes Robinson is the heir apparent and praises his loyalty and support for Paisley Senior.

“He has given considerable support and loyalty towards the leader of the party…”

He added:

“…and I don’t see why you would move away from that presumption. They’re not issues we are currently involved in because it is not an issue which is top of the leader’s agenda.”

Paisley Jnr could be simply commenting on media speculation but perhaps not.The statement seems to include a number of sub-texts – that loyalty and support is expected, that they will be rewarded but patience is required.

During the Christmas period Suzanne Breen specualted on a change of DUP leadership with Peter Robinson the virtually unassailable choice for leader. A journalist generally considered to have developed good sources and relationships with senior members of the DUP and the Robinson camp in particular. At the time I commented:

“It has also been a general rule among leading DUP members avoided leadership speculation like the plague for fear of Paisley’s and his supporters ire. If that rule changes in 2008 then the sands have genuinely started to shift.”

The Irish Times piece by Frank Millar saw the leadership speculation clearly fed and at a senior level.

The thread also noted that:

“Unstated is the family linkage, with Paisley Snr comes Paisley Jnr around whom the most significant political controversies of 2007 have swirled. 2008 will show whether this pattern continues or not.”

Less than three weeks into a new year the pattern has continued with little likelihood of it disappearing from the headlines in the coming months as official complaints are investigated and journalists continue to dig. The lack of full-throated defence of Paisley Jnr by senior members of the DUP is also probably worth noting.

The Paisley thread also ended with a question:

“However, the DUP has shown itself to be sufficiently ruthless to guarantee its success, could, should and would the same ruthlessness be applied to its co-founder and leader in 2008?”

The Irish Times shows it is being genuinely considered at a senior level. This brings us to the last significant inclusion in Pailsey Jnr’s statement, the identification of a specific heir. The Irish Times suggested a majority of MPs in favour of change but noted that:

“However, some senior sources insist there is no consensus behind one candidate and it is believed North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds could also be a contender “

Is this an attempt to play on the competing leadership ambitions to upset the claimed ‘majority’ view for change sooner rather than later? Will it work?

Perhaps this is all too Machiavellian for a Saturday morning but it would appear the sands have started to shift.

The Politics Show will add its thoughts tomorrow.