Under pressure Jim Wells still in frame for election
A SECOND formal complaint has been lodged at the assembly about the DUP's Jim Wells - this time over a heated exchange with a young Sinn Féin MLA.
The party's assembly whip Caitríona Ruane submitted the complaint to the Assembly Commissioner for Standards about "the behaviour of Jim Wells towards MLA Megan Fearon in the Assembly".
The complaint came just a day after Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson complained to the commissioner over alleged sexist comments the former health minister made to Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey before a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting last week.
It is understood Mr Wells approached Ms Fearon as she left the assembly chamber on Tuesday night and challenged her over her response to his alleged comments before the PAC meeting.
Ms Ruane said the heated exchange "was witnessed by other MLAs".
"The complaint has been made on the grounds of equality, respect and good working relationships between members," she said.
Mr Dickson has written to the assembly's standards commissioner to see whether the DUP representative's comments before the PAC meeting breach Stormont's code of conduct.
In a widely circulated video snippet taken from the assembly's official coverage, Mr Wells tells the UUP's Ross Hussey he was "scared out of his wits" when a female civil servant he says reminds him of DUP leader Arlene Foster enters the room.
Mr Wells is then heard telling Mr Hussey: "I'm brilliant with women under the age of eight and great with those over the age of 80 – it's the ones in between I can't cope with, between eight to 80."
Mr Wells later told The Irish News he was simply making a "self-deprecating" remark and his comment had been misunderstood.
Ms Fearon had criticised the former health minister after the video snippet was widely circulated.
"This type of 'boys club' politics is out of date and should be a thing of the past," she said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Earlier, the DUP insisted the embattled MLA remains in the running to contest South Down in May's assembly election.
The controversy has parallels with an incident last year involving DUP MLA Paul Girvan. As revealed by The Irish News in December, Mr Girvan said scrap metal dealers should be armed with guns to protect themselves from "gypsies".
The DUP representative's words are not included in the assembly's official record, but in an audio recording of the November 26 environment committee meeting about the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, Mr Girvan can be heard speaking to a colleague and using the insulting term for Travellers.
However, unlike Mr Wells's remarks, his party colleague's comments appear not to have merited a complaint to the standards commissioner.
The DUP has insisted that the latest controversy involving Mr Wells will not influence the outcome of its candidate selection in South Down.
The sitting MLA has received the backing of DUP members in the constituency but has yet to have his candidacy confirmed by headquarters. Two weeks ago he told The Irish News he was "in the dark" over when the selection process would take place.
A DUP spokesman said the party hoped to have all its candidates selected this week and that Mr Wells was sill under consideration.