Northern Ireland

What's going on in the DUP?

Peter Robinson and Edwin Poots Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Peter Robinson was clearly unhappy that Edwin Poots decided to air the DUP's internal dirty linen in public

Standing in the Stormont Great Hall alongside his two new ministers, Peter Robinson radiated goodwill to all his MLAs.

The Democratic Unionist Party leader had as much confidence in those politicians he had replaced as he did in his new appointees - it was just the age-old problem of party management: too many good people and too few jobs.

However, 16 hours later, Mr Robinson adopted a different tone - issuing a terse statement declaring that he has no plans to stand down now or at any time before the next assembly election, which is due to be held in May 2016.

The second statement was prompted by an extraordinary aside from one of the two men the leader had just removed from office.

Edwin Poots insists he is very happy to be spending more time with his wife as they celebrate their wedding anniversary, and wishes his good friend Jim Wells the best in the onerous task of trying to wrestle with the constant demands of the health service.

Delphic answer

However, in pointing out that he had exceeded his expected tenure at health, Mr Poots went on to argue that the same logic would apply to Mr Robinson - sure, was it not public knowledge his leader would step down before the assembly election?

Coming from such a wily operator as Mr Poots, it is hard to believe those comments slipped out by accident.

Despite his apparent bonhomie, it is hard to imagine Mr Poots was not annoyed by the demotion of his former special adviser Paul Givan who lost his job as chair of the justice committee.

Mr Robinson's unhappiness at Mr Poots' decision to air the DUP's internal dirty linen in public was evident in his insistence that he will make any announcement should he decide the time has come to end his leadership.

In the Great Hall on Tuesday night he had given a more delphic answer when questioned about his future, telling the BBC: "How can I tell how long I am going to live? I take three full meals a day, happy in the job I'm doing."

It has been reported that many DUP MLAs have told an internal review process that they do not consider that their leader is still an electoral asset.

A similar exercise preceded Ian Paisley senior's removal from the top job.

This week's reshuffle may show that Peter Robinson is not prepared to wait meekly for a similar fate.

He is continuing to take his three full meals - although further interventions like the latest comments from Edwin Poots could cause him a nasty bout of indigestion.

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