Election 2015 Northern Ireland

Health Minister Jim Wells' gay abuse remarks: Children's body rejects comments

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Media captionA row has broken out over comments made by Northern Ireland health minister Jim Wells, as BBC News NI Political Correspondent Stephen Walker reports

Comments made by Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells linking child abuse with gay relationships have been rejected by a child protection body set up by his own department.

The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) is a co-ordinating body that promotes the welfare of children and young people.

Independent chair Glenys Johnston said: "There is no evidence that children who are brought up by same sex couples are any more at risk of abuse than those brought up by heterosexual couples."

She added: "In many parts of Europe, children who have suffered abuse perhaps at the hands of a man or woman, are sometimes best cared for by same sex couples of a different gender.

"I really don't want children and young people who have same sex carers or parents to worry that they are more likely to be abused, I don't want those people caring for the children to be the subject of adverse comments or criticism, and I don't want the children themselves to be bullied because their carers are the same gender."

SBNI was established by Northern Ireland's Department of Health in 2012.

Apology

Mrs Johnston would not be drawn specifically on the comments made by Mr Wells, whose wife is seriously ill.

"I know he's had an extremely difficult personal time for some months," she said.

"He actually appointed me to my post, and I have no indication at all that he's not committed to safeguarding children in Northern Ireland."

Mr Wells, the DUP South Down candidate in the 7 May election, told an election hustings discussion on gay marriage: "You don't bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That a child is far more likely to be abused and neglected...."

In a later statement, he said: "I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern."

Mr Wells added: "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."

His comments during the election debate have also been disputed by a leading academic.

Prof Susan Golombok of the University of Cambridge's Centre for Family Research told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme: "The minister has got his facts wrong because the evidence points to completely the opposite conclusion.

"More than 35 years of research on the well-being of children with lesbian mothers, and more recently with gay fathers, have shown that these children do just as well with children with traditional families."

A ban on gay and unmarried couples applying to adopt children in Northern Ireland was removed in December 2013.

Mr Wells' predecessor as Stormont health minister, his DUP colleague Edwin Poots, had tried to challenge an appeal court decision to extend adoption rights to gay couples.

However, the Supreme Court said the Department of Health's argument for appeal did not meet the criteria.

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