Belfast Telegraph

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson denies he will step down as leader before next election

By John Mulgrew

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He has been replaced by party colleague Jim Wells.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."

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.

Islam row

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.

Further reading

Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland pay price as DUP announces shake-up

Embattled minsters go in reshuffle

Peter Robinson announces 'major' DUP reshuffle: Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland out

Attack on welfare cuts rejected

Taxing questions as MLAs debate if they even want new fiscal powers

Stormont welfare cuts debate: Sinn Fein motion calling on Executive to oppose 'Tory cuts agenda'

Poots wants spot fines to deal with health staff abuse

Gay man challenges Edwin Poots over blood ban decision

First Minister Peter Robinson putting his affairs in order before his planned exit 

It appears as if the DUP does not to have much time for democracy

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness clash again blaming each other over delayed response to judge 

Disagreement at heart of Executive on 'how to respond to top judge's critique'

Response delay to Poots' remarks

Cut number of trusts to save Northern Ireland's embattled health service: expert

No more money for you, Edwin Poots is told by Peter Robinson 

Hospital crisis: Northern Ireland has biggest proportion of non-medical staff in the UK

Edwin Poots: Reorganisation of health service needed to deal with patient care problems

Poots calls for health shake-up

More heat than light: The health committee debate in full

Childish Northern Ireland politicians failing us all 

Warning over NHS cuts impact

Health Minister Edwin Poots gives evidence to Stormont committee over 'budget crisis'

Departments facing tough decisions over their budget cuts in the coming months

Edwin Poots faces cuts probe: Audit Office asked to examine £140m shortfall claims 

Slew of missed targets heaps more pressure on Edwin Poots

Latest budget crisis raises serious questions about Health Minister Edwin Poots' ability to deliver

Edwin Poots wants Stormont Executive to decide on health cuts 

Cuts could result in the Northern Ireland health service breaking the law by failing to provide minimum standards of service

Health cash ultimatum could topple Executive: Stormont teeters on the brink after Edwin Poots threatens to bust his budget

Abortion issue in sorry State, both north and south 

Health service crisis: I warned this would happen, says Michael McGimpsey

Health Minister resisting cuts

Abortion: Reason must trump emotion in debate - we need reasoned assessment of impact before we change the rules 

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