Belfast Telegraph

DUP reneged on an agreement to bring me back as Health Minister, says Wells

 

By Claire McNeilly

DUP MLA Jim Wells has launched a scathing attack on the leadership of his own party, claiming they reneged on an understanding to reinstate him as Health Minister.

Mr Wells resigned in 2015 following allegations of inappropriate remarks about homosexuals which were later proved to be false.

In a hard-hitting interview in the Belfast Telegraph today, Mr Wells said he believed the DUP bosses had no time for a "traditional, old-fashioned" party member like him.

"I'm anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion. I would be conservative, and maybe that's not the new image the party wants," said Mr Wells, who added that he believed party officers used the accusation - that he'd linked child abuse to same-sex relationships in the run-up to the Westminster election - as an excuse to oust him.

Mr Wells stepped down as Heath Minister on his 58th birthday, April 27 three years ago, after a meeting with former DUP leader Peter Robinson.

"I did so on the understanding that after the dust settled I'd return as Health Minister," said the South Down MLA, who added that Mr Robinson advised him the resignation would "let the heat die down" in the run-up to polling day.

"In fact, it was me who offered that," said Mr Wells.

"I said to Peter: 'We can't afford the risk of maybe one of our MPs losing their seat over this so I'll step aside, take the flak and when it's all sorted I want to be vindicated by returning for a brief period as Health Minister and then resign to look after my ill wife'.

"But that never happened. Three times I asked for that to be redeemed. Twice (in writing) I was ignored - and, at a meeting with party officers, I was told: 'You're not coming back'."

Mr Wells' accuser, Dungannon woman Dorothy Gardner, was handed a three-month suspended sentence in August 2016 after pleading guilty to making false statements to police about what the DUP veteran had said at a hustings event in Downpatrick.

"The false allegation was printed in 1,802 newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV and radio channels around the world," he said.

"I resigned, simply because the damage to the party would have been absolutely enormous otherwise. I had to resign.

"But the worst point was when the woman who'd made the false allegation was sentenced.

"I pleaded with the leadership to put out a statement welcoming that; they refused."

He added: "When the transcript emerged that proved I didn't say what was alleged, the party wouldn't let me do an interview."

"I suspect they wanted rid of me because I'm old-fashioned, traditional DUP."

When asked if he believed the party wanted to modernise, he said: "I think the DUP leadership feels that, but the DUP membership? Absolutely not."

Mr Wells, a party stalwart since 1981, claimed that part of the DUP's argument against his reinstatement was that the agreement was given by a previous leader and not the current one, Arlene Foster.

The MLA said he stayed with the party because "there's a huge contrast between the support I've had from the DUP generally and the total lack of support from party officers. I was very bitter, very angry about what happened".

Although Mr Wells relinquished his membership of the National Trust last year because of its support for gay rights at the Belfast Pride event, he insisted he wasn't anti-gay.

"There's nothing wrong with being gay," he said.

"It's the practice. I have Christian friends who accept that and don't practice.

"But I'm very passionate about the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.

"All the evidence shows that the best model for bringing up children is in a loving monogamous, heterosexual marriage."

Belfast Telegraph

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