Arlene Foster should “stand firm” against the “unrelenting campaign” for her to step aside as first minister, Jim Wells has said.
In a robust defence of the DUP leader, party colleague and successfully re-elected MLA Mr Wells said it was unthinkable that Mrs Foster would stand down “at the behest of Sinn Fein”.
He said: “We can’t allow militant republicans to dictate who is our leader or the first minister. If you allow Sinn Fein to do that you are setting a very dangerous precedent for the future.
“This election was called to get rid of Arlene Foster. They went all out to break the back of unionism by getting rid of our first minister and leader.”
Commenting on whether the DUP should adopt a softer stance towards nationalism as a number of observers believe many nationalists were motivated to vote by unionist antagonism, the South Down MLA said: “I am certainly saying that Arlene Foster should stand firm against this pressure. We are still the largest party, we have still got the first minister and the first pick in the Executive. Despite the unrelenting campaign against Arlene Foster... Arlene has held her head high and should certainly not be stepping aside at the behest of Sinn Fein.”
In a scathing attack on the BBC’s coverage of RHI and Assembly election, Mr Wells said his previous criticism was “far too soft”.
‘They went all out to break the back of unionism by getting rid of our leader’
The long-serving Assemblyman – who was returned as an MLA for South Down with 7,786 first preference votes – branded the corporation a “disgrace” and said he “should have gone much further” in a recent BBC interview.
Speaking to the Talkback radio programme last week, he alleged that the audience for the BBC’s pre-election televised party leaders’ debate was “very hostile to Arlene Foster,” and that the coverage in general was “utterly biased”.
In a message posted on Facebook yesterday, Mr Wells said he had reflected on the comments and wanted to add: “I wish to make it clear that I meant every word of what I said and wished that I had been even stronger in my criticism of the outrageous behaviour of the utterly biased BBC since December 6.
“The BBC are a total disgrace and their producers and presenters should hang their heads in shame for the way in which they relentlessly attacked Arlene but ignored the many mistakes made by her opponents.”
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Wells said he would be urging the party to lodge a formal complaint – particularly over the make-up of the audience at the televised leaders’ debate he branded a “show trial” of Mrs Foster.
A BBC spokesman said: “We have provided BBC audiences with detailed and comprehensive coverage of recent political developments. Our output has fairly reflected different viewpoints and provided an inclusive space for debate.
“We do not accept the suggestion of bias but will consider any complaint about BBC programming that is supported by evidence. Everything that we do is informed by the BBC’s editorial guidelines and the public interest.”