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‘I'm not isolated at all’: Wells

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

‘I'm not isolated at all’: Wells thumbnail

THE expected punishment for South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells has been meted out, but it finds the veteran politician in upbeat mood.

Mr Wells resigned as Stormont Health Minister in 2015, after he was falsely accused of linking child abuse to same-sex marriage.

In recent weeks, he has claimed that former DUP leader Peter Robinson gave him assurances that he could return to the post of health minister, a claim that the former first minister denied.

Mr Wells, who has now overtaken the late Ian Paisley as the longest ever serving DUP MLA, also said that he was anticipating sanction from the party.

Speaking to the Democrat, he outlined that there are four stages in the DUP party rules - he could have been fined, had the party whip withdrawn from him, been suspended or expelled from the party.

As it is, he has had the party whip withdrawn from him.

"Nobody seems to be able to tell me what exactly this means, because the whip is obviously very important when the Assembly's meeting," said Mr Wells.

"The whip tells you how to vote, what meetings to attend, what line to take at a committee, when to speak and what to say.

"So therefore the whip's role is very much centred around Stormont. Obviously in the absence of the Assembly meeting, it has less of an impact.

"Am I losing any sleep? Definitely not."

Asked whether, that being the case, the sanction was therefore, at least at present, meaningless, the MLA said: "I've been punished, but I'm trying to work out where I should be feeling the pain.

"I understand I can't attend group meetings at Stormont, but there haven't been any for quite a while.

"Because, obviously with the Assembly not meeting, I can't go to meetings that don't exist.

"I can't avail of the services of the support staff at Stormont. But I tend to do my own stuff anyhow. For instance, I issue my own press releases, and I do my own media stuff."

Although the Assembly may not be currently meeting, Mr Wells is the DUP's representative on the Assembly commission, the body which is responsible for Stormont 'housekeeping' matters.

The only means by which he can be removed from that body is if he resigns or an assembly resolution is passed.

I asked the long-serving MLA what is likely to happen next for him.

"That's a very good question," replied Mr Wells.

"Because in the absence of the Assembly, I continue on as the DUP MLA for South Down, I still do all of the daily chores.

"I will probably end up doing more media now because I don't have to seek permission from the press office before I do a media interview.

"It does give you a bit more freedom. I've only been involved actively in the party for 43 years. So I suspect that I've probably got enough experience under my belt to handle this situation of not having the whip.

"I've had huge support on the ground. I would have been concerned about it had I been isolated, but far from it.

"I've had invitations to go to all sorts of events all over the country, DUP events. I would regularly meet backbenchers on a daily basis and they have been more than supportive and helpful to me. I'm not isolated at all."

The question as to when and if a government at Stormont will return is one which is shrouded in uncertainty.

Mr Wells said that he cannot see it returning ahead of Brexit being settled, and a general election being held in the Republic of Ireland, which he said had been expected before the summer, but which is now unlikely to be before the autumn given the impending abortion referendum.

"It's very, very hard to see any movement towards a standard form of devolution before that," he insisted.

"So, therefore my position remains very much 'as you were'."

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