Jim Wells resigns as Northern Ireland health minister

media captionPolice had confirmed it received three complaints against an individual - understood to be the DUP's Jim Wells

The Northern Ireland health minister at the centre of controversy over remarks about gay couples has resigned.

Jim Wells said he wanted to help his wife Grace "during her fight for life".

The resignation follows his remarks at a hustings where he linked same-sex relationships to child abuse. He later apologised for those comments.

Police are also investigating an incident involving a lesbian couple during an election canvas by Mr Wells in County Down.

It is believed the Police Service of Northern Ireland is trying to establish if an offence has been committed.

Mr Wells is a Westminster candidate for the DUP in the South Down constituency.

His resignation was first reported by the Belfast Telegraph, and in a statement released on Monday Mr Wells said he was no longer able to continue his ministerial duties and give his wife "the attention she deserves".

media captionOne of the women who complained to police about Jim Wells spoke to BBC Radio Ulster's William Crawley

"As many people are aware I have been focused on helping my wife during her fight for life," 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," he added.

He said he had met with Northern Ireland first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson and requested to stand down from ministerial office.

The PSNI said it had received three complaints regarding the conduct of an individual in Rathfriland in County Down on Saturday evening.

'Ministerial duties'

It is alleged that Mr Wells, who was doing door-to-door canvassing, called at a lesbian couple's house, and during a conversation was critical of their lifestyle.

The daughter of one of the women said her mother was upset.

She said Mr Wells had gone back to the house twice saying he wanted to apologise. But the couple would not accept the apology, because, they claimed, Mr Wells said he did not agree with their lifestyle choice.

image captionFinance Minister Simon Hamilton is to assume some of Mr Wells's duties

Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson said he respected Mr Wells's decision.

He said Mr Wells was right to put his family first and he would "fully support" him.

Mr Robinson said Mr Wells would continue in his position until 11 May, when the new minister would 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," he added.

Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin said Mr Wells's resignation had been the "right decision".

"Mr Wells has clearly been under increased pressure as a result of his wife's serious illness and his decision to step down was the right thing to do," she added.

"However, his position as health minister was clearly untenable after his attack on the LGBT community, which was completely unacceptable from someone holding the position."

Ulster Unionist leader Mikes Nesbitt said Mr Wells "has done the right thing" in resigning.

'Sensitive post'

However, he said the controversy caused by Mr Wells's comments about same-sex relationships did not affect the unionist pact between the DUP and the UUP, in four constituencies, as the pact related to one issue, that of a pro-union stance.

Alliance leader David Ford said: "Peter Robinson was entirely aware of Jim's views at the point when he made him minister of health.

"The real question is what does that say about the leadership of the DUP that they're prepared to put somebody with those kind of views into such a sensitive post with all the responsibility it has?"

Mr Ford said there were UUP voters in East Belfast and North Belfast, where the pact exists, who do not want anything to do with the DUP, especially after Mr Wells's comments linking same-sex relationship to child abuse.

The other candidates in South Down are Felicity Buchan of the Conservatives, Chris Hazzard of Sinn Féin, the UUP's Harold McKee, Henry Reilly of UKIP, the SDLP's Margaret Ritchie and Martyn Todd of the Alliance Party.

Jim Wells: a life in politics

  • Joined the DUP in 1975, and chaired its Queen's University branch
  • First elected as a councillor in 1981
  • Elected to the new Northern Ireland assembly in 1982, which lasted until its collapse in 1986
  • Worked with the National Trust until his return to frontline politics in 1998, when he was elected as an MLA for South Down
  • A keen environmentalist, his stance on issues such as climate change has put him at odds some party colleagues
  • Appointed as Northern Ireland health minister in September 2014, he replaced Edwin Poots in a DUP reshuffle
  • An Orangeman and a member of the Baptist church, he said he would not abandon his religious beliefs when making health policy
  • A passionate hillwalker, birdwatcher, cricket fan and Coventry City supporter

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