Speaking for the first time about Mr Wells’ resignation from the party and his claim that she was politically inexperienced, Ms Forsythe pointed out that she secured the highest-vote for the DUP in South Down back in the 2017 general election.
On the campaign trail in Rathfriland, Co Down yesterday afternoon, Ms Forsythe also stressed that she would bring her wider life-experience to the Stormont Assembly if elected on May 5.
She referred to her candidacy in 2017 during which she got fulsome support from Mr Wells: “The last time I stood was in 2017 and I was delighted to have achieved the highest ever vote the DUP got in South Down, which was almost 9,000 votes.
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“So, I have experience going to the polls and campaigning to encourage people to return that vote.”
Ms Forsythe continued: “I have as much life experience working in industry, in the charity sector, as a government auditor and that is a lot of professional experience. I have spent a lot of time working for organisations that advocate on people’s behalf as well as being on the board of governors of a local school for over 10 years.
“I have a wide range of experience of things I think are quite relevant to local issues. I feel the DUP across the board has a wide field of candidates with everyone bringing something different from real life to the table. Not everyone on our team has been a full-time politician for their entire career but we all complement each other.”
She said it “absolutely didn’t bother me” that she had come under fire from Mr Wells after he announced his resignation from the DUP earlier this week.
“I am just focused on this campaign and really working hard on it. I work on my job during the day and have my three children at home, and fantastic family support.
“People are very responsive every time I am out on the doorsteps. I am committed to getting round to everyone in South Down which is a big geographical spread. There is a lot of work to do.”
She added: “I am confident given the responses I am hearing but I need to work through to May 5 and do my very best to get the vote out. I feel people are uniting behind me and supporting the DUP as the only party that can win this election for unionism not just in South Down but across the board.
“I work out and about well beyond my constituency, have a lot of friends in different areas of Northern Ireland and that is the message I am getting. A lot of them are saying that coming out of a pandemic it is time to sit strong within the United Kingdom.”
During an hour-and-a-half long canvass of the centre of the town Ms Forsythe received a warm reception on the streets and in the hardware stores, hairdressers and butchers/grocery business she called into during her visit.
Earlier yesterday Jim Wells defended his opposition to Ms Forsythe’s candidacy even though he supported her five years ago in the general election.
Mr Wells told the News Letter that “quite simply I now know the enforced candidate much better and the experience has convinced me that she is not someone who I can support”.
He alleged that Ms Forsythe “has no experience of elected office” and “does not share the views of many DUP voters on social issues”.
The former DUP MLA, who served the party at council level and in the Assembly for 46 years, has claimed that Ms Forsythe was “enforced and imposed” on the party’s South Down Association by its leadership in Belfast.
But Ms Forsythe’s supporters have argued that Ms Forsythe is a popular figure in the constituency and increased the DUP share of the vote in 2017 by an extra 9%.
Mr Wells said she would never have been selected by the local DUP association and that the party’s officers had failed “to consult anyone apart from Diane Forsythe”.
He has now backed the TUV candidate in South Down Harry McKee and has also expressed a wish to join the party.
TUV leader Jim Allister said he believed Mr Wells is “in tune” with his party’s thinking and will consider his application to join.