Long-serving DUP politician Jim Wells has said he expects his party to take “stern disciplinary action” against him after criticism of its leadership in a series of interviews.
Mr Wells, who has been a member of the party for 43 years, said he believed an interview with the Belfast Telegraph was his “last opportunity to set the record straight” after being accused of linking child abuse to gay marriage in April 2015.
He was particularly scathing about how senior members of the DUP supported him following those allegations which were proven in court to be false.
Mr Wells said he still believed in the DUP policies, adding that his “gripe was only with nine people, not the party”.
He spoke to the News Letter on Monday morning after politicians, journalists and DUP supporters alike were coming to terms with what was a no-holds-barred Q and A.
He said: “This is an issue that has been in my mind for a very long time and I just felt I had to come clean because I don’t know if I’d ever have another opportunity to be absolutely truthful.
“I realise that the consequences of this are enormous for me. The world is going to fall on my head as a result of being open and honest.
“I’m expecting very stern disciplinary action to be taken against me. They (party officials) haven’t been in contact yet, but don’t worry, they will.”
He added: “I’m trying to get the party to recognise that I fell on my sword in return for an assurance that after the dust had settled and my name had been cleared I’d be back as health minister. That never happened.”
Mr Well resigned as health minister on April 27, 2015 following allegations from Dorothy Gardner that he had made comments at a hustings event in Downpatrick which linked child abuse to gay marriage.
Ms Gardner was later given a three-month suspended prison sentence when she pleaded guilty to making false statements about what Mr Wells had said.
Mr Wells said: “There was intense media coverage of the allegations and although I was certain that I had done nothing wrong I realised that it would be impossible to undo the potential damage to the DUP campaign before election day (May 7, 2015).”
He said after a meeting with then DUP party leader Peter Robinson and his wife Iris at their home, he agreed to step down as health minister “to take the heat out of the situation”.
“I was told when the frenzy had died down I would be vindicated by returning as health minister,” he said.
He said the false allegation was printed in 1,802 newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV and radio channels.
Mr Wells told how he went through a period of deep depression as he was receiving a deluge of abuse on social media, coupled with his wife Grace’s serious health problems.
She suffered two mini-strokes and two serious strokes on February 1 and 16, 2015 and now requires round the clock care.
After the court case in which the woman who made the allegations pleaded guilty to making false accusations, Mr Wells said he was continuously denied a return to the position of health minister.
“I asked them twice in writing and once verbally. The first two requests were ignored and the third was rejected by party officers. Part of their argument was that the promise was given by a previous leader and not the current one.”
Mr Wells said the DUP also denied him the opportunity to do any media interviews at the time to clear his name.
When the opportunity arose to take part in a lengthy interview with Belfast Telegraph journalist Claire McNeilly, Mr Wells said he decided the time was right to open up about an issue that has made him “very angry”.
He said: “I have been a member of the DUP for 43 years. I am their longest serving MLA, having represented South Down at Stormont for 24 years, and I have also served as district councillor for 17 years. I am deeply disappointed about how the party has treated me since April 2015.
“Throughout these last three very difficult years I have received tremendous support from the South Down Association of the DUP, the general membership of the party and many MLAs. This has been in stark contrast to the attitude of the party officers and one press officer.
“Claire McNeilly of the Belfast Telegraph provided me with an opportunity to reveal the truth about the circumstances surrounding my resignation. I concluded that this may be my last opportunity to set the record straight and I gave her a totally truthful account of what happened.”
He added: “I just basically felt that I could not allow this to continue. People were asking me – ‘given the fact that a woman received a three-month prison sentence for lying about you, why were you never brought back in from the cold?’
“People assume there must be some scandal going on. I just wanted the opportunity to clear my name.
“I know inevitably what’s going to happen but I had to do it. It will not go down well with individuals. I’ll have to take the consequences.”
Asked if his party might try to remove him, he said: “I think we’re in new territory here. If they did try to remove me I would appeal it because the party generally has been wonderful to me.
“I’ve no gripe against the party or the party’s policies. The DUP’s policies on the Irish language act and on Brexit are 100% right.
“My gripe is with nine individuals, not the party generally.”
Later on Monday in an interview with William Crawley for BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback Mr Wells said his party had “fed him to the crocodiles”.
He also accused Spads and press officers of “exercising power well beyond their station”.
The DUP press office was contacted by the News Letter and asked for a response to his comments, both in his interview with the Belfast Telegraph and in follow-up interviews.
A DUP spokesperson said: “The party is very sorry that Jim Wells has chosen to make the comments that he has across a series of interviews. The party, at all levels, has tried to work with Jim given the scale of the challenges he has faced in recent times, including nominating him to paid positions of responsibility in the Assembly.
“What has been said is inaccurate. We do not intend to debate these matters in public but they will be dealt with internally as should be the case.
“We wish Jim well in all the circumstances and difficulties that he faces.”