Belfast Telegraph

Jim Wells says DUP will punish him for accusing party of reneging on pledge

By Victoria Leonard

A DUP MLA has said he is awaiting “inevitable disciplinary action” from his party’s leadership — but Jim Wells added that he had “no regrets” after claiming that it reneged on an agreement to reinstate him as health minister.

In a no-holds-barred interview in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Mr Wells said he had reached an agreement with then-DUP leader Peter Robinson to step down from his ministerial role in April 2015, after allegations of inappropriate remarks about gay people.

Mr Wells claimed Mr Robinson agreed he would return as health minister “after the dust settled”.

In August 2016, his accuser Dorothy Gardner pleaded guilty to making false statements to police regarding Mr Wells’ comments at a Downpatrick hustings event. She was handed a three-month jail sentence, reduced to community service and a probation order on appeal.

Despite being cleared of wrongdoing, Mr Wells says that the DUP leadership refused to welcome the verdict.

He also claimed that his repeated pleas to be reinstated as health minister were ignored by new leadership.

Yesterday, Mr Wells said that he had received support from “influential DUP MLAs” since the interview was published.

He said: “I have been very pleasantly surprised by the reaction from influential DUP MLAs who said they totally understand and support me.

“I had wanted a platform to clear my name. People were asking why I hadn’t returned as health minister. I was completely hung out to dry and left with no support from head office.”

The South Down representative said he knew his decision to speak out would “go down very badly with the leadership and press office”, but that he had “a clear conscience”.

“I was hung out to dry and fed to the crocodiles,” he said. “My life collapsed in 2015. My wife was ill, another member of my family was very ill and my career was in tatters because of a false allegation.

“I’m disappointed that not one of the leadership gave me the remotest support.

“When the court case was heard and Dorothy Gardner was sentenced, I made six attempts to get the party to issue a press statement, and they were rejected.

“I was on my own.”

Mr Wells thinks his “old-fashioned beliefs,” such as his view that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape, were also a factor in his fall from favour.

He says said that he has “absolutely no doubt” that he will now face disciplinary action for speaking out.

“But at least the truth is out, there’s nothing left to reveal,” he said. “I have done the right thing.

“I could well be ousted from the party now, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. They can’t remove me from the Assembly, but they could suspend me, fine me or expel me. I will still be the MLA for South Down for the people who gave me their vote.

“I don’t believe I have lost a single vote because of this.”

Despite his fall-out with the DUP leadership, Mr Wells said he “would still support DUP policy”.

“My problem is with the nine people — senior party officers, spads (special advisers) and press officers,” he said. “The initial commitment to return me as health minister was made by Peter but it was not honoured.

“I would have preferred a quiet life. I wanted to serve one more year as health minister, then I would have resigned to serve my wife and family.

“I asked to be reinstated as health minister for a brief period. Had they done that, I would have gone a long time ago.”

A DUP spokesperson said: “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 today 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.”

Belfast Telegraph

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