An internal split within the DUP has exploded into the open after party leader Peter Robinson sacked two DUP Ministers and lashed out at colleagues who he said had the “strategic vision of a lemming”.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland and Health Minister Edwin Poots were the main casualties of the ‘reshuffle’. Two others were removed from committee chairs in a move against a cabal of dissenters .
However, Robinson has gone further by going on the offensive against critics within his party who are thought have been trying to undermine his leadership.
Mr Poots, who on Tuesday was replaced as DUP health minister by South Down Assembly members Jim Wells, had suggested that Robinson was about to quit. Poots, pictured, claimed it was “public knowledge” from a recent newspaper interview that Mr Robinson was planning to stand down within “months”, before the 2016 Assembly elections.
It forced Mr Robinson to say he had no plans “now, nor before the Assembly election” to quit politics.
“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,” he added.
Both Robinson and his wife have been at the centre of a number of sex and corruption scandals in recent years. He lost his Westminster seat in the last British general election. Speculation about his future has been widespread after be indicated that he would consider retirement when he reached his 65th birthday, which he celebrated in December last year.
However, most commentators believe Poots was being deliberately mischievous by claiming that his resignation was already decided. It was instead seen as a sign that Robinson may indeed face a leadership challenge in the months ahead. Several members of the DUP dutifully took to social media on Thursday to give their backing to the first minister to carry on as party leader.
Significance was also being attached to the fact that Paul Givan, another Assembly member who is close to Mr Poots, was stood down by Robinson as chairman of the Stormont justice committee without being given a promotion.
The position of Nelson McCausland, who was handed a demotion to an Assembly committee chair rather than an outright sacking, was seen as more ambivalent.
There was little sympathy for the scandal-plagued Minister from his Stormont opponents, who accused him of discrimination in housing. He was replaced by north Antrim Assembly member Mervyn Storey.