First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson denies he will step down as leader before next election
Peter Robinson has said he will not step down as leader before the next Assembly election, despite a senior party colleague saying the First Minister would leave office within months.
Speaking on the Nolan show this morning, the now former Health Minister Edwin Poots said it was public knowledge Mr Robinson would leave office as party leader before the next election - which is scheduled for May 2016.
The comments come after DUP leader Peter Robinson dramatically sacked two of his most controversial Stormont ministers - including Mr Poots - in a major shake-up of the party's front-line team.
He has been replaced by party colleague Jim Wells.
The departures of Health Minister Edwin Poots and Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland caught Stormont and their own party colleagues by surprise.
Edwin Poots suggested this morning that Mr Robinson could stand aside in the coming months.
Mr Poots told Stephen Nolan:
"I already knew that it wasn't the intention that Peter would stay on...that's public knowledge."
But responding to the comments made by Mr Poots, Peter Robinson said he had "no plans to stand down".
"Neither now, nor before the Assembly election, have I any plans to stand down and the public and media can be confident that when I decide such a moment has arrived I will be the one to make the announcement," he said.
"I repeat the comments I have previously made that I will continue to lead as long as the party and the electorate in East Belfast wish me to do so."
This morning, Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots - who was a close ally of former First Minister Ian Paisley - told the BBC's Nolan Show that "he (Peter Robinson) referred to months, and months is generally taken as less than a year."
This morning's comments from one of Peter Robinson's most senior party colleagues has fueled speculation the DUP leader leaving office before the Assembly elections in 2016.
Following the reshuffle yesterday, Mr Robinson insisted the shake-up was about "churning around" his party ahead of next year's election and not removing Ministers who may have courted controversy.
"I stand by the ministers I have had in the past. I think they did an excellent job," he said.
"I believe these appointments will give us a good and strong team for a very difficult time."
Huge privilege to have been Health Minister for 39 mths. Best wishes to Jim Wells on a hugely challenging but rewarding job.— Edwin Poots (@edwin_poots) September 23, 2014
As recently as yesterday, Peter Robinson said he would remain as leader and First Minister, despite this morning's seemingly unplanned comments from Edwin Poots.
It's been a rocky road for the now former health chief, who has faced a deluge of criticism during his time as minister.
Mr Poots suffered a backlash following his decision not to lift a ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland.
He was also blamed for a "crisis" at accident and emergency services in Northern Ireland.
Calls for his resignation came after Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital declared a major incident at the start of this year.
That night there were 42 patients on trolleys at its reception.
And earlier this month, Northern Ireland's most senior judge - Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan - condemned comments made by Mr Poots regarding the judiciary.
He said the comments were detrimental to the rule of law and damaging to public confidence in the justice system.
Meanwhile on finances, Mr Poots said he could not cut any more from his health budget and been vocal in his criticism of Sinn Fein over the Executive deadlock with his party.
He also dodged questions over whether or not he would back Mr Robinson as leader of the DUP going into the next election.
Yesterday, however, Mr Poots insisted the reshuffle had not generated any bitterness.
Stormont 'not fit for purpose'
Earlier this month First Minister Peter Robinson generated a political storm, after he said Stormont was not longer fit for purpose.
A deluge of reaction came from right across the political spectrum after Mr Robinson said the devolved institutions could not continue working in their current form.
He said Northern Ireland would be financially crippled unless the welfare reform impasse is resolved.
The deadlock and division over welfare reform has yet to be sorted.
The impasse over the introduction of welfare reforms intensified yesterday, with MLAs split down the middle.
On two knife-edge votes, MLAs rejected both a motion calling on the Executive to oppose the changes and an amendment insisting they should be implemented to avoid cuts to Northern Ireland's Block Grant.
In June, First Minister Peter Robinson was forced to publicly apologise for offence caused to Muslims following comments he made in defence of firebrand pastor James McConnell, who denounced Islam as "satanic".
The DUP leader came under fire for defending the Pastor James McConnell's remarks, saying he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or those devoted to sharia law, which covers everything from public executions to what adherents should do if colleagues invite them to the pub after work or college.
Mr Robinson said he would "trust them to go to the shops" for him.
He later clarified his own remarks and met Muslim leaders in Belfast to apologise privately, before making a public statement days later.
Belfast Telegraph Digital