DUP stalwart believes he will be suspended after outburst

DUP stalwart believes he will be suspended after outburst

11 April 2018

SOUTH Down DUP Assemblyman Jim Wells says he expects to be suspended from his party within days.

Mr Wells, who has been a member of the DUP for 43 years and an Assembly member for 24 years, is facing disciplinary action for speaking out against the party.

The action, which may ultimately lead to his expulsion, comes after he publicly accused the DUP leadership of “hanging him out to dry” following a controversy that erupted following a hustings event hosted by the Down Recorder in Downpatrick in 2015.

At that time, comments made by Mr Wells against equal marriage were misreported following erroneous tweets from the auditorium. The ensuing scandal led to his resignation as Health Minister.

As a result of the furore, Mr Wells has accused his leaders of abandoning him by refusing to reinstate him, even though he was publicly vindicated after a woman pleaded guilty in court to making false statements about what he had said at the hustings.

He claimed the then DUP leader, Peter Robinson, told him he would be reinstated as Health Minister “once the dust settled”.

“I resigned, not because I had done anything wrong but because the media frenzy surrounding me could have damaged the chances of our MPs being re-elected to Westminster 11 days later,” he said.

“The agreement was that I would step aside to stop this happening and return to the Executive after the election.”

A DUP spokeswoman has rejected Mr Wells’ claims as “inaccurate” and said the party was very sorry that he had chosen to make the comments.  

“The party, at all levels, has tried to work with Jim given the scale of the challenges he has faced in recent times, including nominating him to paid positions of responsibility in the Assembly,” she said.

“We do not intend to debate these matters in public but they will be dealt with internally as should be the case. We wish Jim well in all the circumstances and difficulties that he faces.”

Despite the fall-out and anticipated suspension, Mr Wells said he “isn’t going anywhere” and will remain an Assembly member until the next election.

“They can’t remove me as an MLA. The only way that this can be done is at the next Assembly election, or if I get a visit from the grim reaper,” he said.

“If I am suspended from the DUP, which is very likely, I will continue as normal but can’t attend the party group meetings, which is not a great loss.”

Mr Wells said he believed the party wanted to sideline him in favour of a younger and more liberal candidate who might fit in better with the DUP’s drive to appear more “inclusive and modern”.

“I get the impression the party wants to distance itself from me because it views me as an old dinosaur,” he said.

“I am unpopular with the leadership who cannot abide me because I am old fashioned. I do not believe in abortion, I do not believe in gay marriage, I do not believe in bringing casinos to Northern Ireland. I think all-night drinking is a disaster.

“I think the party views me as the embarrassing ageing uncle sitting in the corner at a Christmas party.

“I feel bitterly let down and aggrieved that somebody who has given such service to the party has been treated so badly.

“They are preparing to get shot of me, but I am going nowhere.”