Wells resigns after position branded ‘untenable’

Health Minister Jim Wells.
Health Minister Jim Wells.

Health Minister Jim Wells has resigned after his position was described as “untenable” by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over the weekend.

Wells’ resignation from his Assembly position comes after his comments linking adoption by gay couples to child abuse sparked an angry backlash across the north and beyond.

Martin McGuinness.

Martin McGuinness.

The Minister himself said he was resigning to tend to his wife Grace, who is currently suffering from a serious illness.

However speaking prior to his resignation at the weekend, Martin McGuinness said the Minister for Health’s position was now untenable.

The Sinn Fein MLA said: “Jim Wells’ attack on the LGBT community was reprehensible and completely unacceptable from someone holding the position of Health Minister.

“I accept that he is under pressure as a result of his wife’s serious illness and I acknowledge that he has apologised.

Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin.

Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin.

“However I think those words will ring hollow when judged against the DUP’s opposition to marriage equality, its support for a ban on blood donations from gay men and opposition to adoption by gay couples.

“His position as Health Minister is clearly no longer tenable and the DUP leadership should now reflect on that.”

Fellow Derry politician, Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin, who is also chair of the Health Committee, had announced over the weekend that Mr Wells had been summoned before the Assembly Health Committee to explain his controversial comments on homosexuality.

Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood meanwhile said he was “appalled to hear reports of the comments made by Health Minister Jim Wells” at the hustings event.

SDLP MLA for Foyle, Colum Eastwood.

SDLP MLA for Foyle, Colum Eastwood.

“To suggest that children raised by gay parents are more likely to be abused is a baseless slur on an entire community,” Mr Eastwood said.

In his statement issued this morning, South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells said: “As many people are aware I have been focused on helping my wife during her fight for life.

“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.

“I’ve come to appreciate that when your nearest and dearest is struck with a serious illness their recovery becomes your greatest priority and everything else pales in its significance.

I had continued to maintain my Ministry as I expected Grace’s health would have shown greater improvement before now.

“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. I have been working long hours within the department by day whilst receiving a steady flow of updates from family at the hospital and then sitting at Grace’s bedside throughout the night.

“Even in circumstances where Grace was sufficiently recovered and discharged, she would then more than ever require substantial assistance with rehabilitation. Having been my chief supporter throughout my career my first duty will always be to look after Grace and my family.

“Consequently I met with Peter and requested to stand down from Ministerial office. As the leader has asked me to assist with an orderly transition within the department my resignation will take effect from Monday 11th May.”

Speaking about his comments on gay adoption, he added: “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.”

DUP Leader Peter Robinson MLA said Jim was right to put his family first and I will fully support his decision”.