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Jonathan Bell tipped to be named today as Health Minister

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/05/2015

Jonathan Bell playing in a charity five-a-side game at Stormont
Jonathan Bell playing in a charity five-a-side game at Stormont

Stormont Junior Minister Jonathan Bell is widely expected to be appointed as the new Health Minister today.

The DUP MLA - who lost out by just 900 votes to the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell in the race to represent South Belfast in last week's Westminster elections - faces a challenging portfolio, with workers from many sections in open revolt over cuts.

The Royal College of Midwives staged its first strike last month, while paramedics who are members of the Unite union went on a 24-hour strike last week.

Many other workers have been engaging in a work-to-rule action for some time.

A court battle over maintaining a ban on gay men donating blood - which was started by the former Health Minister Edwin Poots - is still ongoing.

The most recent Health Minister, Jim Wells, announced his resignation just last month after making controversial comments during an election hustings event.

Mr Wells, who ran in South Down, had been taking part in a public debate in his constituency when he appeared to link same-sex relationships with child abuse.

He told the audience: "All evidence throughout the world says the best way to raise children is in a loving, stable, married relationship: the facts show that certainly you don't bring a child up in a homosexual relationship."

Amid uproar from the audience, he continued: "...a child is far more likely to be abused or neglected in a non-stable marriage situation, gay or straight".

He later added if a marriage breaks down, "that almost invariably (is) to the detriment of the child".

Mr Wells later clarified that confusion had arisen over a "botched" statement, which he had immediately corrected.

A few days later he become involved in a row with a lesbian couple while he was canvassing in Co Down.

A complaint was made to the PSNI about the matter.

The police are continuing to investigate whether an offence occurred.

He then stepped down as Health Minister. Part of the reason was also to care for his wife Grace, who has been seriously ill.

His resignation officially applied from today; however Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has been filling in for Mr Wells in the intervening period.

DUP leader Peter Robinson has not yet indicated officially who he intends to appoint to the role.

It is understood Mr Bell had been earmarked for the role, but the party was waiting for the outcome of the election.

He polled strongly to narrowly lose out to SDLP incumbent Alasdair McDonnell.

The health portfolio is considered the most challenging one at Stormont, and the 45-year-old former social worker is set to face a difficult and high-profile task until the Assembly is dissolved next May and new elections to Stormont called.


Jonathan Bell started his political career with the Ulster Unionist Party and served on Craigavon Council from 1997 to 2005. He quit the UUP in protest at David Trimble's leadership and went on to become involved with the Long March for Protestant rights. In 2001 he joined the DUP and initially stayed in the background, carrying on with his full-time job as a social worker. He worked until 2010 in childcare and was a DUP councillor in Ards. In 2010 he was co-opted to the Northern Ireland Assembly to replace Strangford MLA Iris Robinson and resigned from his post on the Human Rights Commission. He has served as a Junior Minister at Stormont since 2011.

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