First Minister Peter Robinson rejects quit claims following comments from Edwin Poots
DUP leader Peter Robinson has moved swiftly to reject claims from a senior DUP member that he would stand down before the next Assembly election.
Mr Robinson distanced himself from the comments of Edwin Poots, who said it was "public knowledge" the First Minister would resign within months.
Mr Poots made the assertions, viewed by some as an attempted coup de grace, on the Nolan Show the day after he was removed as health minister.
But within an hour of the remarks, Mr Robinson said: "Neither now, nor before the Assembly election, have I any plans to stand down. The public can be confident that when I decide such a moment has arrived, I will be the one to make the announcement.
"I will continue to lead as long as the party and the electorate wish me to do so."
Earlier this month, Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph he would not be going in September, but he refused to be drawn over any date beyond that.
He also laughed off predictions that he would retire as First Minister and DUP leader to take a seat in the House of Lords. "I can give you a categorical guarantee – you will not catch me in September wearing ermine," he said. But asked if it would happen in December, he quipped "or March?"
The clash between the leader and his former minister came a few weeks after Mr Poots declined to fully back Mr Robinson in leading the party into the Assembly election, which is 20 months away.
Mr Poots, who was replaced in the post by Jim Wells, claimed he had "hedged" his comments because he was aware Mr Robinson intended to quit.
"I already knew it wasn't the intention for Peter to stay on for that (the Assembly election) in any event," he added.
"That is public knowledge. The interview that he carried out referred to months. Months is generally taken to be less than a year."
Mr Poots' intervention came less than 24 hours after was one of two DUP ministers removed from office as part of a reshuffle.
Unlike former Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, who was made chair of the Culture and Arts Committee, Mr Poots was not given charge of any Stormont oversight bodies. On Facebook, Mr Poots said he had enjoyed his three years and four months in the job.
"My wife who works in healthcare was far from keen on me doing it, but I said yes," he added. "I knew that it would be immensely difficult and challenging and it was all of that and more.
"It was also incredibly interesting and rewarding, and we are privileged to have a world-class health service. I didn't leave a perfect health service – far from it – but I did leave it in better shape than when I took over.
"Best wishes to Jim (Wells), thanks to my party and all those who encouraged me."