An Assembly watchdog has decided that alleged misogynist remarks by DUP MLA Jim Wells were actually not about women at all - as widely claimed - but rather about the MLA himself.
On February 3 at Stormont, Mr Wells is heard on video telling Ross Hussey MLA he was “scared out of his wits” when a woman who reminded him of DUP leader Arlene Foster entered.
“I’m brilliant with women under the age of eight and great with those over the age of 80 - it’s the ones in between I can’t cope with, between eight to 80,” Mr Wells said.
There is a further indistinguishable comment.
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson complained to the Assembly Commissioner for Standards, Douglas Bain, who has now written to both men saying the complaint was “not admissible”.
Mr Bain said it was not clear whether Mr Wells’ comments were about his own ability or whether they were “jocular in nature”.
“Whatever the case, they were comments about him and not about women in general, far less about any particular female person”.
The comments “in no way discriminated” against women nor incited discrimination or hatred, he added.
It was not possible to tell whether Mr Wells had used the word “b*****ds” as had been claimed, he found.
And whilst Mr Wells’ alleged comments could be interpreted as being “shocking, disturbing or offending the deeply held views of others, it is plain...that Mr Wells was entitled to make them”.
Mr Wells said last night: “After he lodged the complaint I asked Stewart to come and listen to an enhanced broadcaster’s version of the clip, which clearly showed I used the word ‘disastrous’.
However, he refused, so I asked him to withdraw his complaint, but again he refused.
“But what most annoyed me was that he issued a press release - and then refused to speak to the media to defend his claims.”
But Mr Dickson stood firm: “Whilst I accept the commissioner’s view, nevertheless I consider demeaning remarks about women in a poor light.” He added: “If enhanced audio exists of the incident, then it would have been a matter for Mr Wells to bring that forward to the commissioner, not me.”
He declined to do media interviews so as to avoid being seen as trying to influence the commissioner, he added.
Mr Hussey, however, said he was not surprised by the outcome, describing Mr Wells’ comments as “humorous”. If Mr Wells had used inappropriate language he “would have reacted differently”, he added.
A DUP spokesman said a decision on whether it would select Mr Wells to stand in the Assembly elections would be made by March 5.