Election 2016: Wells victory a step towards full ‘vindication’

The DUP's Jim Wells after being re-elected for South Down
The DUP's Jim Wells after being re-elected for South Down

Jim Wells has described his re-election in South Down as another step towards fully restoring his political reputation.

Mr Wells hit the headlines in April last year after a 30-second video clip emerged of him speaking at a hustings event in Downpatrick, where at one point he spoke about homosexual marriage and child abuse.

Jim Wells talks to his wife Grace after she was refused entry to the count centre

Jim Wells talks to his wife Grace after she was refused entry to the count centre

The Public Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute the DUP man over the remarks after it was supplied with a fuller transcript of his comments, but he stood down while the investigation was taking place.

Speaking following confirmation of his election on the third count, he made little attempt to conceal his anger at how he was forced out of his job as health minister.

“The eight months I was health minister were the happiest eight months of my life. Clearly in order to be vindicated I would like to go back at some stage.

“It ended in absolute and abject misery,” he said.

John McCallister is consoled by the SDLP's Margaret Ritchie after losing his Assembly seat

John McCallister is consoled by the SDLP's Margaret Ritchie after losing his Assembly seat

“It ended in anguish. I was hung out to dry for something I never said.”

When his election was confirmed, Mr Wells immediately hit out at the Electoral Office staff he claims denied his disabled wife Grace access to the count centre.

He later explained to the media that he hadn’t registered his wife in advance and then had no way of proving she was indeed married to him – and allowed access under normal protocol.

Paying tribute to former Ulster Unionist MLA John McCallister – who failed to get re-elected as an independent – Mr Wells said he was a nice guy who proved unelectable due to his social policies.

“On a personal level John is a wonderful fella. He’s very nice, he’s very humorous, but John adopted two policies which were toxic in South Down – gay marriage and abortion.

“That went down like a lead balloon. I did 7,000 doors, and door after door told me they were even troubled giving a transfer to him because of that.

“They just cannot live with that type of social agenda that John has.

“If he had kept away from those I think he would have done much better,” he said.

Asked how his party will use its latest mandate on those issues, Mr Wells said: “Exactly as before – we don’t want the 1967 Abortion Act and we don’t want gay marriage. Simple as that.”

Ulster Unionist Harold McKee was the second candidate to be elected having made the quota at the fifth count.

In his acceptance speech, Mr McKee said he was “prepared to work with everyone” at Stormont for the common good.

Chris Hazzard of Sinn Fein and the SDLP’s Sinead Bradley were the first of four nationalists to be elected and each added a party colleague to the final list of six for a repeat of the 2011 result.

Speaking after his victory, Mr Wells described the past 12 months as “the most difficult year of my life by far”.

He said he would taking civil court action against a number of people, and added: “I am very grateful to those who have told me that I am vindicated.”

Mr McCallister said he would take a week off to contemplate his future.

When asked if he now regretted leaving the UUP over its decision to enter an electoral agreement with the DUP, he said: “I don’t, because when I gave that up the point was to say that you should not be going into sectarian tribal politics.

“Of course it would have been an easy option to just have kept my mouth shut, but I prefer to do what I believe in rather than taking the easy option.”

Mr McCallister added: “Of course I’m disappointed. But I can look back at nine years in the Assembly ... and like to think that I’ve made a small contribution to politics.”

SOUTH DOWN CONSTITUENCY (first preference votes)

• Sinead Bradley (SDLP) Elected 5,059

• Patrick Brown (Alliance) 2,200

• Michael Gray-Sloan (Sinn Fein) 3,520

• John Hardy (Green) 820

• Chris Hazzard (Sinn Fein)Elected 5,045

• John McCallister (Independent)1,156

• Colin McGrath (SDLP)Elected 4,288

• Harold McKee (UUP)Elected 3,481

• Henry Reilly (TUV)2,718

• Sean Rogers (SDLP)3,564

• Caitríona Ruane (Sinn Fein)Elected 4,191

• Jim Wells (DUP)Elected 5,033

TURNOUT: 53.8%