Former DUP minster calls for referendum on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland – a week after it already became a reality

Jim Wells

Jim Wells, the disgraced former DUP health minister, has called for a referendum to be held on same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland despite legislation on both issues having already come into force.

Wells, who had the DUP whip withdrawn in May 2018 after he criticised party leadership, was labelled “highly insensitive” after his belated intervention.

The South Down MLA claimed that a referendum was needed due to Westminster “forcing through” abortion rights and equal marriage “in less than an hour, without prior warning and with no consultation”.

“They were forced through late at night by others who had little or no understanding of the values of the people of this part of the United Kingdom,” he said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

“I and many others strongly believe that both issues should be made the subject of referenda which will give the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to have their say.

“There is huge concern in the community about the total lack of consultation prior to these changes and a sense of anger that they were unable to have their views considered in advance of October 21.”

Jim Wells ‘can’t choose human rights à la carte’.

The House of Commons debated the Northern Ireland bill which introduced abortion rights and equal marriage for four hours at its second reading stage, and for more than five hours at its third reading the following day, facts which Wells “chose to ignore,” according to Alliance for Choice co-convener Naomi Connor.

“Mr Wells wishes to ignore the fact that this decision was not taken in ‘less than an hour’ and organisations including Alliance for Choice have campaigned for many decades on the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. Mr Wells and others chose not to listen,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Human rights are not an à la carte menu that Mr Wells can pick and choose from and these matters should not be decided by referenda. It is doubtful that in the south of Ireland where the 8th amendment was repealed, that Mr Wells lauded the outcome as fair, democratic and the right decision.”

She explained that any hypothetical referendum “would not be legally binding as we do not have a written constitution”.

Disgraced DUP minister has history of anti-LGBT+ speech.

Wells resigned as the Northern Ireland health minister in 2015 shortly after he was investigated by police for comments linking child abuse to same-sex relationships.

At a hustings event in Downpatrick, he was caught on camera saying: “You don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That a child is far more likely to be abused and neglected.”

Wells later released a statement saying: “I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern. 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.”

He subsequently gave a second statement claiming he had “twice corrected [his] remarks” immediately after expressing them. Police found no cause to prosecute Wells over the remarks.

Wells did not refer to the controversy in his resignation letter, instead citing a desire to spend more time with his ill wife.

More recently Wells came under fire for criticising the DUP’s first lesbian councillor.

Ahead of Alison Bennington’s election, Wells said that her candidacy marked a “watershed change in DUP party policy.”

Party leader Arlene Foster originally suggested that Wells might be sanctioned for his comments, but it has since been confirmed that no action will be taken against him.