DUP support minister who linked gay relationships to child abuse

Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells
Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells

The Democratic Unionists are standing by their under-pressure Health Minister amid mounting calls for him to resign over controversial remarks about gay relationships and child abuse.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has added his voice to those insisting Jim Wells' position as a Northern Ireland Executive minister is no longer tenable after he suggested a child was at more risk of abuse if brought up in a homosexual relationship.

At the event Wells said: "You don't bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That child is far more likely to be abused and neglected...."

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the furore was an indication of the "truly backward-looking views from the DUP", but he would not rule out governing alongside the party after the general election.

The nationalist SDLP are to table a motion of no confidence in the minister at Stormont.

Police are also investigating a complaint lodged about the comments made by the South Down MLA at an election husting event in Co Down last night.

Mr Wells this morning apologised for his remarks.

"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."

The DUP's stance on LGBT issues, such as its opposition to gay marriage, has been subject to greater scrutiny beyond Northern Ireland during the election campaign, given the party's potentially important role in the event of a hung parliament.

"Jim Wells' attack on the LGBT community was reprehensible and completely unacceptable from someone holding the position of health minister," said Mr McGuinness.

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

However, the Sinn Fein veteran claimed the apology "rang hollow" when judged against the DUP's track record on LGBT issues.

"His position as health minister is clearly no longer tenable and the DUP leadership should now reflect on that," he added.

But Mr Robinson said he stood by his minister and urged people to consider the personal pressures he was under.

"I think anybody who looks at the comments will recognise that on a better day Jim would never have made such a comment," he said.

"I think everybody knows the pressure he has been under the last couple of months with his wife being ill in hospital and trying to keep going a very significant department in the Executive."

Mr Robinson added: "He has put out a very sincere and fulsome apology and I think people should give him a break because of the very special circumstances.

"He very rightly says it is neither his view or is it the Democratic Unionist Party's view. I again reiterate that today. That is not our view and nor will it ever be our view."

Mr Wells' wife Grace has been in hospital for around three months after suffering two strokes.