In a statement issued on Thursday evening, the DUP MLA said he received a “public endorsement” from officers of the association at a meeting held in Rathfriland earlier that day.
He said those present had given him “their unanimous support as he submits his application to stand for the May 2022 Assembly elections”.
However, a long-standing member of the association has claimed those in attendance were a “select few” supporters of Mr Wells, with all dissenting voices excluded.
The association member, who does not wish to be named, claims that Mr Wells has only minority support among local DUP members and that his actions are “disappointing”.
He said: “He does not have the full support of the whole association. I wouldn’t say he has the majority of support.
“The meetings he called were not inclusive. They were only for the ‘select few’. I have not been invited to any meetings this year.”
The disgruntled association member added: “So how can he say he has full support? You cannot take what he has said at face value. He is going off on his own agenda and not the agenda of the association which is disappointing.”
Mr Wells had a public fall-out with the party leadership in 2018 when he claimed the party had reneged on a promise to reinstate him as health minister – a position he stood down from in 2015 after he was falsely accused of linking child abuse to same-sex marriage. His outspoken comments in 2018 led to him having the party whip withdrawn.
In June this year he told the Irish News that he still hoped to have the whip restored, and that “substantial progress” had been made towards this under Edwin Poots’ leadership.
However, Mr Poots was replaced by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as leader after only 21 days.
When contacted by the News Letter yesterday, Mr Wells declined to confirm how many members of the South Down Association attended Thursday’s meeting – saying he had spoken to the local newspapers in South Down and would not be prepared to discuss the matter prior to their publication next week.
In his statement on Thursday, Mr Wells said the meeting was the first stage of a process he hopes will end with his name on the ballot paper.
He said: “DUP rules state that everyone wishing to stand in any part of Northern Ireland have to submit their applications to headquarters.
“The party officers will then decide the names that will be put before the selection meetings in each constituency.
“I felt that it was important that before I submitted my name to party HQ that I consulted the members of the South Down Association of the DUP.
“I was delighted when they decided to give me their unanimous support”.
Mr Wells added: “I am hopeful that the party will allow my name to go forward to the selection meeting of the DUP members in South Down.
“At today’s meeting those present had been members of the DUP for a combined total of over 200 years and it was extremely encouraging to receive the public endorsement of those who have served the party so loyally for such a long period.”
The statement included a comment from South Down DUP Association chairman Roland Wilson, who said: “We are very fortunate in having such an experienced candidate as Jim Wells putting his name forward to party headquarters.
“We face a crucial election next May and it is vital that the person selected to stand for the DUP in South Down has the total support of the local membership.
“Jim has our unanimous backing and we wish him well in the next stage of the nomination process.”
A spokesperson for the DUP said: “Party processes, as set down in our rules and constitution, are ongoing in relation to the selection of candidates.
“Any meetings in South Down are regular association meetings and not connected to the candidate selection process as determined by party rules.
“As these are internal party matters we do not give a running commentary nor have any further comment to make.”
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