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DUP's Jim Wells still in dark over South Down candidacy

Former health minister Jim Wells hopes to stand again in South Down. Picture by Mal McCann 

JIM Wells says he has yet to hear from DUP headquarters about his bid to contest the upcoming assembly election.

But the former health minister said he hopes to be confirmed as the party's South Down candidate on Monday when leader Arlene Foster visits the constituency.

Mr Wells announced nearly a fortnight ago that he planned to run again for Stormont in a move that was greeted with surprise.

There had been speculation that the 58-year-old would retire from politics due to personal circumstances and recent controversies.

Mr Wells's wife Grace suffered two strokes last year and currently lives in a nursing home.

Her ill-health was cited as a contributing factor when the veteran DUP man became embroiled in controversy during last year's Westminster election campaign.

He stepped down as health minister and in October took time off from the assembly.

But Mr Wells is determined to continue as an MLA and has put his name forward for selection to run in May's election.

Speaking to The Irish News on Friday, he said he had the support of constituency members and other contenders to be the DUP's South Down candidate had withdrawn from the race.

"There were five potential candidates but now there is one - and you're talking to him," he said.

However, Mr Wells said he had not heard from party officials about his selection since his announcement on January 18.

"I'm surprised I haven't heard anything yet but all I can do is sit and wait," he said.

"I'm hoping to hear on Monday night when our new leader visits Ballynahinch – I think that would be an appropriate time to announce my candidacy."

The Irish News asked the DUP when it planned to name its candidate for South Down but no response was forthcoming.

Meanwhile, former Ulster Unionist minister Michael McGimpsey is standing down from the assembly after 18 years.

The South Belfast MLA served as culture minister from 1999-2002 and as health minister from 2007-2011.

He said he regarded his time as health minister as one of the highlights of his career.

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