Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has denied claims that he is to stand down before the next Assembly election.

Edwin Poots, who was replaced as health minister yesterday, claimed it was "public knowledge" that the Democratic Unionist Party leader intended to go before 2016.

Mr Poots made the claims during a radio interview.

He said: "It was never really the intention for Peter to stay on for that period in any event."

The Lagan Valley MLA, who was a close ally of former first minister Ian Paisley, told the BBC's Nolan Show: "He (Peter Robinson) referred to months, and months is generally taken as less than a year."

In a statement, Mr Robinson hit back at the claims, denying he intended to stand down "now or before the next Assembly election".

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 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 Féin 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.