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Hard not to feel sympathy for DUP maverick Jim Wells

By Alex Kane

Published 16/07/2015

Jim and Grace Wells
Jim and Grace Wells

Reading Jim Wells' interview in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that there was a swansong dimension to it.

This is a man who has accepted that he'll never be a minister again: indeed, he may not even stand for election again.

Like all front line politicians - he was first elected to Lisburn Borough Council in 1981 - he has reached the point at which he is considering what his legacy will look like.

As he says in the interview: "As Health Minister, I thought I might achieve something.

"I thought, well finally I have something to put on my tombstone."

He certainly doesn't want to be remembered as "that DUP guy who was forced to resign because of his homophobic views".

That's why he wants to clear his name.

He believes he was misunderstood. He believes he was the victim of a dirty trick. He believes he shouldn't have resigned.

I first met Jim in 1975/76, when we overlapped at Queen's University. We were both unionists, but other than that we probably disagreed about everything. Yet I liked him.

What you see with Jim is what you get.

He doesn't do nuance or ambiguity - and that's one of the reasons, incidentally, he's always been regarded as a bit of a maverick within the DUP.

So, the fact that so few of his colleagues rallied to his side doesn't surprise me, although, as he notes, "it hurt me deeply".

In this case, though, he should have let this particular sleeping dog continue to snooze.

This is a battle he can't win.

The public took sides after the hustings comments and the "Rathfriland incident" a few days later (when he told two lesbians he didn't approve of their lifestyle), and it's unlikely that he'll change any minds now.

I can understand why he feels hurt about how he thinks his career crashed, but I would also argue that his resignation followed the doorstepping in Rathfriland, rather than what was or wasn't said at the hustings two days earlier.

Jim, of course, has something much more important to deal with: the long-term illness of his wife Grace.

I hope he will be left in peace to deal with that.

His ministerial career is over. I think it's probable that his Assembly career is winding down, too.

I have enormous sympathy for Jim.

I know there will be a temptation for some people on social media to refight the "gay battle" with him, but I hope they will resist it: and I hope he will as well.

Minds have been made up and there's little, or nothing, he can do about it.

  • Alex Kane is a writer and commentator

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