Belfast Telegraph

DUP’s Wells has the whip withdrawn after attack on leadership

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has withdrawn the whip from veteran politician Jim Wells over his stinging criticism of the party leadership.

In an explosive interview with the Belfast Telegraph last month, the South Down MLA accused the party's top brass of hanging him out to dry over his conservative views.

He also claimed the party had reneged on a promise to reinstate him as Health Minister after his controversial resignation three years ago.

Neither Mr Wells nor the DUP would last night comment on the decision to withdraw the whip from the former minister.

Mr Wells is the DUP's longest-serving Stormont politician. He has been a party member for 41 years and an MLA for a total of 24 years. He also served as a councillor for 17 years.

When asked about the disciplinary action against him, Mr Wells declined to comment.

A party spokesman said: "The DUP doesn't comment on internal party affairs."

The South Down politician has previously not ruled out running as an independent in the next Assembly election.

At the time of his Belfast Telegraph interview, he predicted his candid remarks would lead to disciplinary action against him.

"I am an old-fashioned dinosaur. I do not believe in abortion. I believe that a man should marry a woman. I do not believe in euthanasia of the elderly, the legalisation of cannabis or all-night drinking," he said.

"I'm old-fashioned and there is no room for people like myself."

Mr Wells was appointed Health Minister in 2014, but stepped down the following April after being falsely accused of linking child abuse to same sex marriage.

He said he had offered to stand aside to prevent "damage" to the party in the run-up to the Westminster election but understood that he would be reinstated "once the dust had settled".

His wife Grace had also suffered a severe stroke and is still receiving around-the-clock care.

"Peter Robinson made the commitment that I would return," he said. "Then Arlene (Foster) took over as leader and Arlene, as leader of the party officers, ignored my two written requests for that commitment to be honoured."

Mr Robinson has denied making the South Down MLA such promises.

At a meeting of party officers in May 2016, Mr Wells claimed DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told him he would not be returning as Health Minister.

Mr Wells added: "The party leadership watched me go through the worst of times and they never once picked up the phone. To be honest, I think they were delighted someone had shot me and horrified to find that she had used dummy bullets and that I was twitching in the coffin.

"I was the embarrassing uncle at the Christmas party and they were glad to get rid of me."

Mr Wells said he felt compelled to speak out and believed he "might as well be hung for a herd of sheep as a lamb".

In response to Mr Wells's claims, a DUP spokesman said at the time: "The party is very sorry that Jim Wells has chosen to make the comments that he has across a series of interviews.

"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.

"What has been said is inaccurate. 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."

Mr Wells has previously said he has widespread backing in the party.

"I have three MPs and over half the DUP MLA team sending me messages of support," he said.

"A lot of people are fed up with the power that certain DUP employees and press officers wield.

"These individuals hold influence way above their station.

"In speaking out against them, I have touched a chord with many other members in the ranks who are equally fed up.

"It is wrong that people who never received a single vote in their lives exercise power far beyond that of elected representatives."

Belfast Telegraph

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