Northern Ireland

DUP's Jim Wells 'not sanctioned' over remarks on gay councillor

DUP MLA Jim Wells. Picture by Mal McCann
DUP MLA Jim Wells. Picture by Mal McCann

THE DUP's Jim Wells says he has not been disciplined by the party over comments he made about its first openly gay councillor.

In May, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party would be "looking at bad behaviour" after Mr Wells had criticised during the council election campaign the selection of Alison Bennington.

Former party adviser Timothy Cairns had said many would be "disgusted" at Mr Wells's remarks, adding: "It is time for the leadership to take action – it is beyond time."

However, Mr Wells – who lost the party whip last year for criticising the leadership in the media – was among those in attendance at the DUP annual conference on Saturday.

The South Down MLA told The Irish News he received an invitation from the party.

He said no action has been taken against him over his comments criticising Ms Bennington's selection.

"There have been many occasions when party officials have said I should be hung at dawn, but it never happened – and I'm pleased at that," he said.

Mr Wells said he was "totally opposed to the selection of Alison Bennington", saying it was against the "ethos and spirit" of the DUP.

The MLA said he attended the conference in 2018 despite not receiving an invitation from the party, but this year he received one.

"The party sent out a letter to every member asking them to come to this and I was one of those members," he added.

On the atmosphere of the party conference, Mr Wells said "there's not much to smile about".

"Given the circumstances it was extremely challenging. There was so much going on. It must be difficult given all the pressures – there's not much to smile about," he said.

"On social policy, we have lost on gay marriage, we have lost on abortion, and there's huge pressure on the country in terms of the (Brexit) withdrawal agreement."

Last week, Westminster laws came into force which decriminalised abortion and paved the way for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Northern Ireland.

Mr Wells said he was "pleased at the strong message Arlene gave on the life of the unborn child" in her conference speech, but expressed disappointment that the party's opposition to same-sex marriage was not mentioned.

"I think that was unfortunate because I see the two issues as two major concessions to nationalism," he said.

The DUP has previously dismissed accusations of "double standards" on party discipline, insisting that all members are treated "fairly and equally".