The DUP has finally selected Jim Wells as its candidate in South Down – despite an apparent debate within the party hierarchy as to whether he should stand again.
The party has repeatedly delayed the decision and missed a series of its own deadlines for when it said the announcement would be made ahead of May’s Assembly election.
But this morning, the party confirmed the news in a press release which quoted DUP leader Arlene Foster saying she was “delighted” that the veteran political figure would bee “my candidate” and that supporting him would help to “elect me as First Minister”.
Mr Wells has faced enormous personal difficulties over the last year, ever since his wife took a serious stroke last February. A series of life-changing health complications since then have meant that she now needs to live in a health care facility.
The former health minister has also been involved in a series of controversies, most notably over comments about gay marriage which he made at a hustings event almost a year ago.
Some DUP members have privately said that they did not want Mr Wells to be the candidate, believing him to have become a liability to the party of which he has been a member for decades.
In a statement, Mrs Foster said: “I am delighted that Jim will be my candidate in South Down and will be the DUP’s standard bearer at this election.
“Jim Wells has a proven track record of delivering for the people of South Down and is one of the Assembly’s most formidable performers.
“He has also been a loyal servant to the DUP over many decades and continues to make an important contribution to the party.
“Over the past 12 months Jim has faced enormous difficulties and challenges and has come through them with great fortitude and resolution.
“Jim and his family remain in our prayers as he continues to care for his wife and family.
“Jim also faced unfounded allegations in relation to comments made during the General Election campaign last year which were presented in a completely misleading way.
“We are delighted that over recent mouths Jim has cleared his name and has been publicly vindicated.
“At this election a vote for Jim Wells is a vote for a strong DUP team to keep Northern Ireland Moving Forward and to elect me as First Minister.”