Wells still ‘best man for MLA job’ despite controversies: colleague

Jim Wells MLA
Jim Wells MLA

There are no strong potential contenders to stand in place of Jim Wells if the DUP decides not to select the party veteran to stand again, said a colleague.

According to the election results website Ark.ac.uk, Mr Wells was the leading unionist in his nationalist-dominated South Down constituency in the 2011 Assembly election, with 12.5 per cent of the vote (against 10.6 per cent for John McCallister, then standing for the UUP).

However, Mr Wells has faced a number of controversies in the past year, as well as personal problems including his wife Grace’s severe illness.

It had been expected that a decision would have been made by this stage on whether he would vie again for the seat – something which is ultimately up to DUP officers.

On Sunday night he said a selection had still not been made.

He was reluctant to say any more, and referred the News Letter to the party’s press officers (who could not be reached late on Sunday night).

DUP councillor Harry Harvey said: “I think he could poll as well as he ever did if he does run.

“He’s obviously had a very difficult year, you know. It’s told on him, as it’d tell on anybody. But I still think he’d do well... I don’t know who would replace him. He wouldn’t be easy replaced. He’s a character. That’s good – we’re all characters in our own right.”

Among the controversies the former health minister has faced were claims that he had linked child abuse to gay adoption – something he strongly denied saying, stressing that the full audio recording of the meeting in question last April bore out his point.

He has also faced complaints this month, after being overheard saying in a Stormont committee: “I’m brilliant with woman under eight and over 80 – dreadful with the ones in between.”

Sinn Fein and the Alliance accused him of “sexism”, but this was dismissed by the DUP – and South Down rival John McCallister – as “ridiculous”.

Speaking of these contentious events, councillor Harvey (who is based in south Down, but who technically belongs to the party’s Strangford branch) said: “I don’t think in his vote base it’d make any difference really.”

Asked if he can think of anyone who may fill his shoes, he said: “No. I would say no.”

He added there would be “a touch of shock” if he did not get selected, concluding that he is still “the man for the job”.