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DUP's Jim Wells has whip withdrawn after attack on party leadership

Jim Wells has had the whip withdrawn from him by the DUP. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE DUP has withdrawn the whip from South Down MLA Jim Wells after he gave an interview criticising the party leadership.

Speaking to The Irish News this morning, Mr Wells confirmed the DUP action against him but said the move by the party leadership would have "no impact" on his work as an MLA representing South Down.

Mr Wells claimed last month the DUP had reneged on a promise to reinstate him as health minister after he stood down in April 2015 amid outcry over remarks linking gay couples to child abuse.

He said then leader Peter Robinson said he could return but alleges the current leadership failed to honour that commitment.

Mr Wells said he would continue to sit on three bodies within the assembly where he represents the party - the Assembly Commission, the Pension Trustees and the Audit Committee.

The South Down MLA refused to speculate on whether he would stand for election for the party in future but said "anything can happen in four years".

He also praised DUP "back-benchers" and said he continued to have a good relationship with them.

"The party at the lower level have been magnificent with me," he said.

"I have had their support and they have been very helpful to me in recent weeks."

Mr Wells said despite the move by the party leadership, he would remain busy dealing with issues such as the Universal Credit rollout which had "created a huge workload". Mr Wells said he is "doing tribunals and hearings on a daily basis".

When asked this morning about the disciplinary action taken against Mr Wells, a DUP spokesman said: "We do not comment on internal party matters."

Last month Mr Robinson denied he had made a specific promise that Mr Wells could return to the health portfolio, insisting in a BBC interview that his words were "much more careful".

The BBC reported it had seen an email sent from Peter Robinson to party official John Robinson in April 2015 which Mr Wells said supported his version of events.

The email read: "I made it clear to Jim that I thought he had done a good job and if Grace [Wells' wife who was seriously ill at the time] returned to health and he felt able to take up this (or for that matter another) post I would be happy to see him back in government.

"Obviously, publication of this would cause several problems, but I think you are aware that I felt Jim needed time to be with Grace and that we should see to it that no impediment was placed in his being able to return to office."

Mr Wells insisted the email indicated a promise had been given.

Last month, Mr Wells claimed Peter Robinson had told him to step down and "let the heat die down".

Mr Wells told the Belfast Telegraph he had offered to step aside to protect the party ahead of the 2015 general election on the condition he would be "vindicated" and returned as health minister for a brief time.

He said party officers later told him he would not resume ministerial work.

Mr Wells, who has been a DUP member for 43 years, an MLA for 24 years and was a councillor for 11 years, is among the longest serving public representatives at Stormont.

He was appointed health minister in 2014 but stepped down the following year after a furore around comments he made at a hustings event.

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