Belfast Telegraph

Crass comments damage reputation of Health Minister Jim Wells

Editor's Viewpoint

Let us be unequivocal about it. Health Minister Jim Wells' comments that children brought up in a same-sex relationship were more prone to abuse or neglect were crass and insensitive and should never have been uttered.

With police confirming that they are investigating the remarks and a growing clamour for his resignation, his position must be in some jeopardy notwithstanding his apology.

This newspaper fully recognises the intense personal pressure he has been under during the past 11 weeks as his wife hovered on the brink of death after two strokes and major cardiac surgery. It would be a hard heart which would not feel sympathy for him on a personal level.

But that does not excuse what he said. Not only has he damaged his own reputation but also that of the party at a time when it is positioning itself as a potential power-broker in a hung parliament. How this issue plays out in other parts of the UK may well determine his future.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of his comment came from a child safeguarding body set up by his own department which said that there was not one iota of evidence that children brought up by same-sex couples were at any more risk than those reared in a conventional heterosexual setting.

Reaction among local parties has been entirely predictable but there is a certain irony in Sinn Fein, a party which has well-documented problems, even cover-ups, of child abuse in republican circles, rounding on Mr Wells. Sexual issues evoke strong reactions in Northern Ireland, but there are many other issues which affect far more people on a day-to-day basis which scarcely get a mention during the hustings. What help can Stormont give those trapped in negative equity? What resolution is being put forward to the contentious problems of flags and parades or those facing the elderly or infirm?

Perhaps this lack of debate on the concerns of ordinary people is the reason why so many decline to cast their vote on polling day.

Further reading

PSNI probes gay abuse comments as DUP leader Peter Robinson stands by his man

David Cameron: I will never validate the DUP's stance on gay rights and LGBT issues

Gay adoption: It is 'natural order' for a man and a woman to have a child, says Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots

Call for clarity after DUP man's 'make homosexuality illegal' comments

First Minister Peter Robinson backs wife's view that gays are an 'abomination'

Iris Robinson: gays more vile than child abusers

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