Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson: Critics in DUP 'puffed up lemmings'

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Media captionPeter Robinson: 'Some people are puffed up by their own importance'

DUP leader Peter Robinson has called critics within his party "people with the strategic vision of a lemming".

Mr Robinson would not be drawn on naming individuals whom he said were "puffed up by their own importance".

"I have made the comment and unlike some others, I haven't tried to personalise it to any individual - let people put the cap on and see if it fits them," he said.

He said the party would deal with those who did not back his leadership.

It came a day after Mr Robinson rejected a claim by senior DUP figure and outgoing health minister Edwin Poots that he would stand down before the assembly election in 2016.

Image caption Several DUP elected representatives pledged their support for Mr Robinson on Twitter

Mr Robinson announced a reshuffle of his party's Stormont team on Tuesday. At the time, he said the various moves had not generated any bitterness.

Several senior DUP figures tweeted messages of support for Mr Robinson on Thursday, including deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who said: "It should go without saying, Peter has my full support in leading us into the upcoming elections."

Also among those posting messages of support were some assembly members who lost out in this week's reshuffle, such as Mr Poots and Paul Givan.

Analysis: BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport

A series of DUP elected representatives used Twitter on Thursday to signal support for their leader; a sequence that looked like a coordinated response from DUP HQ to a couple of damaging interventions on that rather more old fashioned medium - the wireless.

Broadcasts first by Edwin Poots and then Lord Morrow left the impression that some in the DUP were less than enthusiastic about the Robinson era continuing through to 2016.

But the Twitterati are too canny to believe that a spate of politicians saying the same thing is a spontaneous expression of brotherly love.

Mr Robinson's arch critic, TUV leader Jim Allister, responded: "Finding great amusement from the orchestrated tweets of undying loyalty to 'Our Dear Leader'. Is failing to tweet a disciplinary offence?"

After the first couple of tweets, I asked whether a Twitter reshuffle had now become a Twitter power struggle? Given the one-sided nature of the tweets, I should have maybe substituted the words "Twitter power play".

Read more from Mark Devenport

On Thursday, Mr Robinson said the DUP had "always prided itself on being a family party".

"Even in the Democratic Unionist Party, it's clear there are some people who are so puffed up by their own importance, people who have the strategic vision of a lemming, and we have to deal with those people," he said.

"They won't take us off course. It is very clear where the party's direction is, and the party has choices to make - it can follow people down a road to destruction, division within the party and the consequences that would be paid for that, or they can move ahead and do what we said in our election commitments of taking Northern Ireland forward.

"That's a clear choice, but I can't stop people from making comments.

"All I can do is continue to raise issues with the party officers, they have indicated their support for the strategy I have outlined, and let's see what the people have to say."

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