Northern Ireland news

DUP's Jim Wells criticised for response to teenager who used 'The North' in email

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

THE DUP's Jim Wells has been criticised for responding to a teenage constituent's query about an educational issue by questioning her use of the term 'the North'.

Ellen Taylor (15), from Downpatrick, had emailed her local South Down MLAs to gauge their opinions on introducing flexible school starting ages to help some children.

The Alliance Youth member wrote: "This is done in the South to great success, surely the North should adopt it too? Would love to hear your views as soon as possible as the legislation needs to be introduced before the next round of applications in January."

Responding to her email, DUP MLA Jim Wells wrote the single line: "Do you mean Northern Ireland when you refer to 'the North'."

The blunt response prompted Ellen to post the exchange on Twitter with the caption "I want to scream", while others posters accused the politician of being "juvenile".

Mr Wells last night told The Irish News that when he first received the email he thought it was from a "member of Sinn Féin" due to its use of "the North".

"She used the pejorative term 'the North' and that indicates to me that this wasn't a genuine query," he said.

"I was going to respond once she clarified her point. I get hundreds of emails. Some are genuine while others are designed to trip you up."

He added: "I was very suspicious of this email, and I won't be responding to it now. It's quite clear that by placing the email and initial response on social media for all to see that it wasn't genuine."

Ellen said she was disappointed by the response of the assembly member but "not surprised".

"The North is simply an easy way to refer to this place, and I definitely wasn't trying to annoy him. I use 'the North' and 'Northern Ireland' interchangeably when it suits, so it's not as if I have any problem with any name used."

The Down High School pupil added that she posted the exchange online "because it was so embarrassing to see such a response from a politician on a serious issue".

"Young people should not be put off engaging with their MLAs on issues they feel strongly about, and this certainly won't deter me, but that attitude might impact on others."

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