Jim Wells, the DUP Assembly Member for Down South in Northern Ireland, has resigned as the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the Province. In a statement he said:
“Those who know my family and I, know the last three months have been the toughest of our lives as we watched my wife, Grace, suffer two successive strokes and battle through major heart surgery. However, as she now faces further challenges I have come to the point where I am no longer able to continue my ministerial duties and give Grace the attention she deserves.
On the issue of comments I have made which have attracted significant publicity, I have already said sorry for the offence caused and acknowledged that the comments were factually inaccurate. At no time did I set out to hurt or offend anyone and it has upset me greatly that the comments made have caused distress to some within our community. I am deeply saddened that some of those who represent a different viewpoint from me have attacked my family and me in a deeply personal, nasty and in some cases threatening way. Some of the outbursts on social media have been particularly abusive and menacing in nature”.
The resignation days after controversial comments Wells made which appeared to link same-sex couples to child abuse and the police confirmed that they were investigating the comments. At this time Wells said in a statement:
“The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for me personally. I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate. Indeed, during the event I received several messages from the hospital.
I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I’m sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.
Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the Chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on. This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.
The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology”.
The leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson, said:
“Jim and Grace have been foremost in our prayers over the last few months. Almost daily he has updated me on Grace’s progress. I trust she will make a full and speedy recovery. I have always advised Jim that we stand ready to assist him in any way we can.
I know Jim was enjoying leading change within the Department and putting in place new policies that were making our health service better. I believe he has made a great contribution and always offered positive support at an Executive level. I would have wanted it to be otherwise but I respect Jim’s decision. However, he is right to put his family first and I will fully support his decision. With such a significant portfolio, there should be an orderly transition; therefore Jim will continue in post until 11th May when the new Minister will take up office. In the meantime, I have requested that the Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton, assume some of Jim’s duties to release some of the pressure.
I place on record my thanks, and that of my party, for Jim’s service and trust everyone will accept the stress and strain Jim has encountered over these past months and offer him and his family support and encouragement as Grace battles her illness”.