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Peter Robinson denies he will step down as First Minister before next Assembly election

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File photo dated 10/01/14 of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson who today indicated he was prepared to resign unless there was a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the John Downey case, saying: "I have to say quite frankly that I am not prepared to be the first minister of a government that is kept in the dark on matters that are relevant to what we are doing. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday February 26, 2014. See PA story POLICE HydePark. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

File photo dated 10/01/14 of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson who today indicated he was prepared to resign unless there was a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the John Downey case, saying: "I have to say quite frankly that I am not prepared to be the first minister of a government that is kept in the dark on matters that are relevant to what we are doing. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday February 26, 2014. See PA story POLICE HydePark. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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File photo dated 10/01/14 of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson who today indicated he was prepared to resign unless there was a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the John Downey case, saying: "I have to say quite frankly that I am not prepared to be the first minister of a government that is kept in the dark on matters that are relevant to what we are doing. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday February 26, 2014. See PA story POLICE HydePark. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Peter Robinson has said he will not step down as leader before the next Assembly elections, 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 Mr 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.

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 Mr Poots, Peter Robinson said he had "not plans to stand down".

He said: "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.

"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."

Mr Poots, who was replaced by South Down MLA Jim Wells, had been in charge of the health portfolio for five years.

He was one of two DUP Executive ministers removed from office as part of a major reshuffle. But, unlike former social development minister Nelson McCausland, he was not made chairman of any Stormont committees.

Significance is also being drawn to the fact that Paul Givan, another Lagan Valley MLA who is close to Mr Poots, was stood down as chairman of the Stormont justice committee without being given a promotion.

During his tenure, which was extended by two years, Mr Poots had faced criticism following his decision not to lift a ban on gay men giving blood.

And Northern Ireland's most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, said his comments about the judiciary during an Assembly debate on the issue were detrimental to the rule of law and damaging to public confidence in the justice system.

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 impasse 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.

Belfast Telegraph