Smoked eggs and Currie

Smoked Eggs and Currie

On October 22nd 2014 Health Minister Jim Wells spoke at a meeting of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and was there, as stated by Chairperson Maeve McLaughlin in her introduction, to “to give evidence on the terms of reference for the Committee’s review of the departmental approach to the Budget”.

All was going swimmingly with much discussion of priorities for 2015-16, budgetary constraints, ‘Transforming Your Care’, Ebola, revenue generation, efficiencies and potential savings until THAT moment.

After a brief discussion on the ban on smoking in pubs introduced in Northern Ireland in 2007 (which Chris McGimpsey helpfully pointed out that the current Health Minister voted against), Jim Wells remarked on the success of the ban:

The classic example is — I have said this before in the Assembly — if you go to a hard-bitten social club in west Belfast tonight, you will see six-foot tall men with skinhead haircuts, tattoos and earrings standing outside in the rain smoking, and this is probably the only law that they have obeyed in their life. Why? Because they respect the law that says you smoke outside in the street rather than in a pub or a restaurant. Adherence to this has been almost 100% – JIM WELLS

Surely MLAs on the committee would be outraged at such a slight, storm out of the meeting, condemn Mr. Wells and force an immediate apology and retraction.

Well no actually.

What really happened as documented the official Hansard transcript of the meeting was this :

The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): OK. You are running the risk of stereotyping every person in west Belfast.

Mr Wells: Only those standing outside drinking clubs at midnight.

The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): We need to be mindful of stereotypes in all of this.

Mr Wells: Both sides of the wall.

The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): There are factors other than simply lifestyle choices.

Mr McGimpsey: I welcome you, Jim, to the Committee and to the job. It could not have happened to a nicer guy.

At the conclusion of the meeting Jim Wells clarified his position:

Madam Chair, you rightly picked up on a phrase that I meant rather facetiously. My comment would apply to any working, Rangers or Celtic pub or loyalist club anywhere in Northern Ireland. I was not particularly homing in on west Belfast. I was trying to make the point that the adherence of every community in Northern Ireland to the smoking ban has been almost 100%, and that is to be applauded. I was not trying to denigrate the people of west Belfast in any way – JIM WELLS

The Chairperson Maeve McLaughlin seemed happy with this response:

OK. Thank you. Hopefully, this is the shape of things to come in these discussions – MAEVE McLAUGHLIN

So all’s well that ends well.

But wait a moment…

Days later newspaper headlines and TV news reports began to emerge suggesting Jim Wells had insulted the people of West Belfast.

Jim Wells 28th October

Such was the developing crisis that Stephen Nolan devoted almost 20 minutes of his television programme to a discussion on the issue.

Why, he wondered, had it taken Paul Maskey, Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast so long to respond; calling for the minister to withdraw the comments, describing them as “absolutely shocking” and “offensive”.

Jim Wells has painted the people of west Belfast in a totally negative light with this outrageous stereotype. He also characterised people in west Belfast as lawbreakers. He needs to publicly apologise for these grossly offensive remarks. Instead of casting aspersions on entire communities – PAUL MASKEY

Mr. Maskey explained that he had been flicking through Hansard and when he came across the transcript of the meeting he was “totally shocked”.

Presumably none of the other Sinn Féin members present at the meeting such as Mickey Brady, Rosaleen McCorley, or the aforementioned Chairperson Maeve McLaughlin thought that a DUP Health Minister “casting aspersions” on the good people of West Belfast was worth bringing to the attention of the MP for the area.

Cynics may suggest that perhaps Sinn Féin referred to the matter as a smokescreen to divert from more serious issues facing the party.

Surely not?

Despite Jim Wells having declined an invitation to appear on the programme Stephen Nolan had achieved a Major coup by having former Conservative Party Junior Health Minister Edwina Currie on board to give her eggspert analysis.

It may well be true that the person with the tutu (sic) and the skinhead is a criminal – EDWINA CURRIE

The Twitterverse had the temerity to question Ms. Currie’s credentials for voicing her opinions on West Belfast, tutu wearing skinheads and indeed tattoos generally so we posed a (hopefully) pertinent question:


Seems the pantomime season has started early in Belfast.

[twitter_follow username=”” language=”en”]

  • James Black

    I can just imagine Paul Maskey “flicking through Hansard”

  • Rapunsell

    Yeah and Currie wiped the floor with Maskey – embarassingly so – when she challenged him on smoking and death rates in his own constituency – he appeared both clueless and devoid of ideas.

    Undoubtedly Jim Wells showed his fears and prejudices – but is anyone surprised – bet hes never set foot in West Belfast. But his central point about adherence to the laws on smoking is true. The question is to how and make smoking even more socially unacceptable and enable people in west belfast and elsewhere save money and lives

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    I don’t know how many lives the smoking ban in bars have saved-( if any )-but that ban has killed bar life- Half the crack is now standing in the doorway smoking out-Whilst the other lot are at home with their carry outs smoking away-

  • Jag

    Seriously Fireman, what response were you expecting from the BBC? “no, she took her own broom stick”? Baboomtish, contemporary, as Ricky Gervais might say.

    It would be more revealing to find out what fee was paid to Ms Currie; personally I think she’s good entertainment and generally well-informed, but how would Alex Maskey feel if Ms Currie was paid, say, for sake of illustration, GBP 1,500 and Alex was paid nothing because Alex thought the paradigm was that in exchange for the BBC getting him as a guest, Alex got a platform to promote his views.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Jag – it was the Paul lad on the show, who was out “insult hunting” but got well and truly curried. Sure why worry if your voters are dying of lung cancer when you get the opportunity to have a pop at a DUP minister.

  • Glenn Clare

    The republicans of west Belfast must be so proud of the representation they are getting from their Sinn Fein MP.

  • Roy Reilly-Robertson

    The whole thing is a manufactured non-crisis and SF came late to the outrage over the remarks. I share James Black’s awe at the notion of Maskey idly flicking through Hansard. Even by anorak standards in politics this has to be unbelievable to say the least.
    The intention is/was to divert attention from the drip drip drip of revalations concerning child abuse and most especially the less than believable changing stories from the Memory Challenged Leader and his cohort of close supporters.
    So far as the offensive remarks are concerned it is a case of never let the facts stand in the way of a good story, again.

  • Croiteir

    Good – the sooner we get away from British bar culture the better.

  • Jag

    I like that, “insult hunting” and agree with you in this instance. It’s not a pursuit confined to any party though; they all seem adept at “slamming” “vile” and “appalling” behaviour on the other side.

    However, maybe someone should have pointed out to Edwina that one of her Conservative colleagues was forced to resign from office (he was chief whip) after calling one of the rozzers at Downing Street a “pleb”. That episode did appear to exercise the English media for a time, though there were more angles to it than just the name-calling.

  • hugh mccloy

    Smoking ban in bars was in Irish law before it was brought into British law. #FleggerLogic

  • Croiteir

    Smoking is British culture #missedthepoint

  • Toby Kazus

    hmm, interesting,well I am a hardcore smoker so I decided to
    move to electronic siggs, I buy my e siggs from online sites like,
    started to use them when a friend told me they could help me stop smoking or at
    least help me smoke not so much.And to tell the truth they do help a bit but I
    gess in time I will stop smoking permanently. Just want to put this out for
    others who are looking for a way the stop or at least smoke less.

  • Croiteir

    sorry – should be a question mark after culture. ( and that might be the most insightful thing I have ever had.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    There’s a Hollywood movie in the Andrew Mitchell affair. Personally I never realised the political muscle of Officer Plod. Bringing down a Minister through lies – what a story. On another tack don’t know if you caught The Blame Game last night? Jim Wells described as a tea total, non smoking vegetarian. If it makes him that sour pussed I’d want to wake up to a pint of Guiness, a tab and a fry up every morning. Worth an Iplayer catch up.

  • James Black

    Is Paul Maskey for real, “Jim Wells should be coming out & commending the people for adhering to the smoking ban” ! I had my suspicions why Maskey is usually not let loose on main stream media by Sinn Fein, it’s pretty obvious after that appearance