Peter Robinson's weekend cycle ride was halted twice over 'tiredness'
Peter Robinson had been working right up to the moment he suffered severe chest pains in the early hours of yesterday morning, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The 66-year-old First Minister was facing a week of intense pressure - with Stormont facing the possibility of collapse - when he was rushed to hospital after a suspected heart attack.
The DUP leader underwent a procedure later in the day, but last night appeared to be recovering.
One of his friends indicated last night that he was in good spirits.
And Nigel Dodds, MP for North Belfast, said that Mr Robinson had been working up until the moment he began to feel unwell.
"Peter had been sending emails into the early hours of Monday morning when he was taken ill. He's a hard worker and it's always been his style to work very late at night," he told the Belfast Telegraph last night.
"I have been in touch with his family by phone and by text and obviously this has come as a big shock to everyone, but I'm glad to say that, from what I've heard, Peter is improving.
"Hopefully if that continues we are looking forward to seeing him out of hospital in the not too distant future, though obviously that will depend on what his doctors say."
Mr Dodds, who had spent a considerable amount of time with his party leader on Friday, when he was in good form, said that Mr Robinson would undoubtedly have to make some changes to his lifestyle.
"Busy people in public life tend to work long hours and sometimes just don't pay enough regard to the importance of finding some quiet space and time out with family, so this sort of health incident can be nature's way of giving you a wake-up call.
"Now we are all going to have to rally round and make sure that Peter does take it a bit easier."
The DUP leader had recently taken up cycling to improve his health but had to stop twice during a ride with party colleague Sammy Douglas on Saturday complaining of tiredness.
The two men had been out cycling together for the last two weekends.
It was a pleasant day with lunch in a cafe along the way last Saturday, and Mr Robinson was in good, cheerful form.
However, Mr Douglas noticed that his leader was more tired than the week before.
"Last Saturday he had to stop twice," he said.
"I thought at the time he was just tired and he said he had a spot of indigestion, soreness around the chest or stomach it sounded like. But he was in the best of humour."
After he suffered chest pains early on Monday morning, an ambulance came to his house and took him to the Ulster Hospital, close to his home in the Castlereagh hills.
He was later moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital where heart procedures, such as the insertion of stents, are performed.
The health scare came on the eve of a crunch Stormont debate on welfare reform which is expected to proceed without Mr Robinson today. The party has given no indication of who would assume the leadership if the First Minister is absent for some time, but Finance Minister Arlene Foster has stepped into the role before.
Best wishes flooded in from across the political spectrum, with Prime Minister David Cameron wishing Mr Robinson a speedy recovery.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "Concerned to hear First Minister Peter Robinson has been admitted to hospital. My thoughts and prayers are with him, Iris and family."
Mr Robinson, a father-of-three, has been leader of the DUP and First Minister since 2008.
Meanwhile, Ian Paisley, whose father spent several weeks in hospital in 2012, said he understood the strain on the family.
He said: "I know what it is like. I send him my best wishes and hope that he makes a speedy recovery."
Mr Dodds - who was rushed to hospital himself in 2013 after taking ill in the House of Commons - said that the support from politicians and members of the public alike would prove a morale booster for Mr Robinson.
"I have been inundated with calls from people who have been asking about Peter and sending him their regards and I have passed this onto his family," he said.
"There is a lot of support for him and a lot of prayers going up and I know from when I was admitted to hospital how encouraging it is to hear that so many are thinking of you.
"I've no doubt Peter will be encouraged by this too."
As leader of Stormont's largest party, Mr Robinson has been under huge pressure in recent months - not least because of the crisis over welfare reform.
The DUP also endured a difficult election campaign when former Health Minister Jim Wells resigned after a furore about comments he made linking same-sex marriage to child abuse. The resignation meant Mr Robinson had to reshuffle his top team.
Mr Wells said he could not recall Mr Robinson having a sick day in 40 years.
He said: "I have known Peter since 1975 and I cannot remember him ever having a day off sick.
"He always struck me as being fit and healthy, so it was a real surprise to hear the news.
"The party will be 100% behind me in wishing him well. We hope he will be back on his feet as soon as possible.
"It will be strange not having him with us at this crucial vote tomorrow - assuming he won't be there. I wouldn't put it past him to bounce back quickly."