It’s resignation Jim, but not as we know it

So Jim Wells has tendered his resignation. There’s something in the back of my mind about Peter Robinson threatening to resign before and withdrawing the threat when the storm had passed. Maybe I’m jumping too far ahead, though…

A lot of commentators and journalists are proffering the opinion that the post-dated resignation is to allow for the outcome of the Westminster election and that Jonathan Bell, the current Junior Minister in OFMDFM, is the favourite to take up the health portfolio. If the Nationalist vote were to be sufficiently split so as to allow Bell take the seat, the DUP would have to re-think its choice. Seems straightforward, right?

Well no, not really. The DUP faces a problem very much of its own making. The party line is that it is opposed to marriage equality and there are varying shades of personal opinion ranging from Paul McLean’s outlaw homosexuality calls to Pam Cameron’s personal beliefs being at odds with, she says, the majority of her constituent’s views. Therefore the obvious questions for the next DUP health Minister will be what are your views on Jim Wells’ comments? Where do you stand on the issue of gay men donating blood? What about gay couples adopting. Oh and can we ask your views on abortion and the fatal foetal abnormalities legislation whilst we have you here Minister?

You can see the problem, can’t you? What potential Health Minister could answer those questions in a manner that would ensure no further damage to the party? Who could ensure the story didn’t continue to have legs right throughout the election campaign? The delayed resignation is simply about minimising the potential for further damage, not seeing who’s available once the Westminster election results shake out.

The smart thing for the DUP to do would be for Peter Robinson to announce he’s asked Pam Cameron to take on some of Jim Wells’ duties until his resignation comes into force on May 11th. Now not for one moment do I think she would be permanently appointed to the role, but it would be a signal that DUP is willing to accommodate the views of those who dissent from the party line and, indeed, consider the idea that there may be more than one woman in the party who is Ministerial material.

Even with Robinson’s Radio 4 damage control interview and doing everything it can to put a lid on this, the prospect – dim as it always was – of the DUP being kingmakers in a coalition at Westminster must surely have been now completely extinguished.

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  • Mr Angry

    Jonathan Bell would be an interesting choice.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “dim as it always was – of the DUP being kingmakers in a coalition at Westminster must surely have been now completely extinguished” Don’t bet on it ! If Cameron needed 9 votes to remain in Number 10 I know what a Tory would do ! and it certainly is not about so called princibles !

  • Dan

    Yes, a grinning ninny is just what is needed to get to grips with the problems in the health service here

  • Old Mortality

    Where do you stand on the issue of gay men donating blood?
    New Health Minister: “Although the risk of infection from HIV may well be greater, we must accept that any such ban is unenforceable as we as we have no means of knowing who is homosexual and who is not”.
    What about gay couples adopting?
    NHM: “Where a child’s early experience is of a heterosexual environment, it would always be preferable to provide a similar adoptive environment, just as it would be preferable for a child to be adopted by a family of the same race”.
    …and can we ask your views on abortion and the fatal foetal abnormalities legislation whilst we have you here Minister?

    NHM: “I would advocate the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. No doctor or nurse who objects to the procedure on moral grounds will be required to participate in it and, needless to say, no woman will ever be compelled to have an abortion. I’m sure this move would enjoy enthusiastic cross-community support, especially from parties like Sinn Fein which holds such ‘progressive’ views on this issue”.

  • Pete

    “Pam Cameron’s personal beliefs being at odds with, she says, the majority of her constituent’s views.”

    What? Her first tweet was about the lack of a link between homosexual relationships and child abuse, and the second one was about legalising same-sex marriage. Those are entirely different things.

  • barnshee

    Falls about laughing- Convicted murders have been elected— associated parties have increased their vote share and you think a a”gaff” about gay rights is going to affect the support for a party?
    particularly where there is at least a degree of sympathy for his “gaff”
    (gets up from floor to fall down again)

  • mickfealty

    Love the title Patricia. This is Stormont. Others have endured after the revelation of much worse. Standards could hardly get lower than those already set. [Unless of course…]

    I’m pretty certain he’ll be gone by 12th May.

  • Zeno

    I agree with you. A lot of the Tories share the same views as the DUP on gay rights.

  • Robin Keogh

    If the current polls are accurate there is no way the dupes will be required to prop up any government. So close to polling day it really does look like a Labour/ SNP coalition. It will be interesting to see if the DUP will lose any votes due to the scandal. While legacy issues of the conflict have little impact on voter choice due to the passage of time and a growing proportion of the population with no real experience of the troubles; contemporary issues are more likely to sway voters in that they are currently relevant and affect the lives of people now. The Gay question is also very ‘tangible’ there is a rapidly growing constituency of people who have friends or family members who are Queer, they may look elsewhere on their ballot paper come election day, feeling compelled to support their loved one. South Belfast springs to mind. In fact, i wonder if enough DUP voters switch, could tge UUP pip the SDLP ?

  • barnshee

    “While legacy issues of the conflict have little impact on voter choice due to the passage of time”

    Whistling in the dark—the murder campaign has poisoned the water for generations

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont agree Barn. For sure there are many who still feel as you do, understandably so. But i think mre and more people are letting it go and ready to move on with their lives.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Your excellent article raises a number of interesting issues: kind of seeing that the emperor has no clothes. I feel there is a sense since the weekend that there is wider and more vocal recognition that the DUP has gone too far. The sense of remove from and being unrepresentative of some or many of its voters is noticeable. If it allows more free votes in the chamber they will be seen as less doctrinaire but that flexibility could make them appear less attractive to absolutists. If the USP of kingmaker in the upcoming horse-trade is now redundant then they will look redundant back home.
    Its recent strategy has been to appear as vital and significant to UK govt/politics but as a result of trying to parachute this bubble into national politics, it will be increasingly apparent to even NI voters that they are embarassing and irrelevant dead enders.

  • Croiteir

    How would it be in the DUP interest to support the horror of abortion as well a the idiotic claim that ssm is marriage equality? It would be detrimental to them.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    How would you know if you don’t live here? There are many unionists whose suspicion, even hatred of Sinn Fein is immutable.

  • chrisjones2

    How would it be in the DUP interest to support the horror of no abortion of dead and hopelessly malformed foetuses?

  • Robin Keogh

    Unionism has long been associated with terms like suspicion and hatred so I doubt thats a surprise to anyone. But not all Unionists ‘hate’ and even if they did they only make up have the population which leaves a considerable bulk of the population moving on. My main point was really about people focusing more on their current situation and letting that dictate their voting preference rather than allowing events of istory to do it for them. I live a few miles down the road and i know enough Unionists on a personal level to be sure that Hate, is not reallty what motivates them.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You’re not really saying anything that we don’t already know. However, you’re leaving out the big issue of voter apathy which has been generated by a sense that no-one party is representative of a multitude. Sinn Fein is not mopping up old SDLP voters nor is it making much headway in unionist enclaves. The legacy of the war has poisoned the water and the poison’s still there because we still have the same parties that were only relevant to the conflict. In NI, many of those who want to get on with their lives see Stormont as at best an irrelevance or at worst a hindrance.

  • Robin Keogh

    There are lots of different reasons for apathy and in terms of real numbers, apathy in the North is on a par with other regions around europe. The percentage share of the SF vote has steadily increased with it being the biggest party after the last Westie Election. SDLP have steadily declined, this would suggest two things. Firstly a portion of SDLP voters are switching to SF and secondly, new voters are preferring SF over the SDLP in large numbers. There was a significan drop in Natonalist turnout at the locals, only 45% turned out to vote. We will have to see if this can be reversed in May or is it the start of a downward spiral of disconnect. I agree that Stormont is both an irrelevance and a hindrnace but it unfortuately is a necessarry irrelevance and hindrence. For nationalism it has only ever been seen as a storage barn whilst waiting for irish unity. Really its just a regional super council.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Storage barn? What is it storing for the people? Is being in the executive just long term storage when they (should) make decisions that have a real impact on people’s lives? Is it storing up its 2 policy inconsistencies until it can figure out how to dovetail or streamline them? Or will the policy in ROI override that in the North? In which case it shows a degree of contempt for the people here. How long will this storage barn last?

  • Robin Keogh

    It is storing whatever political talent that lies there in that it offers and excellent training ground to prepare reps for governemnt in a UI .The decisions they make obviously are relevent to the six counties as a super council might be and yes they impact on peoples lives on a day to day basis. There is no contempt, a new ireland and a new irish government will be elected by the people through the parties they support, whther its Antrim, Cork, Galway orn Dublin. All voices having equal weight. The storage barn i hope lasts for at least 12 more years.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    All adminstrations are training grounds for the parties and members that form them as nothing can prepare you for govt. If Sinn Fein ever forms a govt in a far distant (more than 12 years away) UI then that term will also be a training ground for them and they will make mistakes there too. However, you make Stormont sound like a mere waiting room for some gloriously golden Eire Nua with the Sinners in govt for perpetuity.
    BTW what will have happened to all the staunch unionists over the course of the next 12 year training camp?

  • Robin Keogh

    What will have happenned to al the staunch unionists? Nothing.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    There’s a circle that you’ll have to square. Tell me about it!

  • Robin Keogh

    Sorry,i can be a little dim sometimes mate. I am not sure what u are asking me?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Sorry darling but all I can say to that is hmmmm.

  • Robin Keogh

    Still dunno what u are asking me ;(

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Just take it from me that you really need to develop a much deeper and more realistic understanding of these 6 counties particularly the full spectrum of political unionism along with siege mentality loyalism. I might suggest you spend time on the Shankill or Ballymacarrett or Larne or Carrickfergus but I’d recommend you don’t for personal safety reasons.

  • Robin Keogh

    AH ok, you are saying that unionist violence will stop the domocratic wishes of the people from being respected should they vote for a UI?

  • LordSummerisle

    You can blame SF Mr. Keogh, they have not exactly ingratiated themselves to what might be termed Loyalist working class communities. It is a legacy of the past poison which still happens to be drunk in certain places. I think Ben is quite correct how would you square the peg ? Do you think that those unhappy folk will simply disappear ? Or should they just shut up and put up ? Then we possibly enter a whole spiral of role reversal and another 30 odd years of generational conflict ? Pop into the Union Jack shop on the Newtownards Road, tell them you are doing research and gage their reaction to what you have just said.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    But what democratic wish? 40% of Sinn fein members polled that they preferred to stay in the UK for the time being. That makes them de facto unionists (for the time being). A UI is a long way off and it will take generations before the water is cleared of its poison to allow for a sufficiently flexible unionism.

  • Robin Keogh

    So to summarise your point, there can never be a UI because Unionist violence would not allow it?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Along with peaceful opposition.

  • LordSummerisle

    “Unionist” ? Did I say “Unionist” ? Do you really think there would be no trouble ? Or do you hope for a mass exodus of an integral part of the population ? It is the job of Republicans to convince Loyalists that a UI would be jolly good. To date they have not done so. Tell me what are the benefits of a UI to those from that particular ideological tradition.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    But never say never.

  • Robin Keogh

    Trouble fow what aim? For london to take them back? Exactly what would they be fighting for?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Unionism doesn’t always fight for things. It often fights through fear. Ref: aforementioned siege mentality.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Not any Tories the whips have caught at it!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Despair actually.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The DUP deliberately did not announce the new minister, as this would immediately draw questions and start a debate about whether or not the replacement shared the same homophobic views as his predecessor.

    By leaving Wells in position with an announced resignation in the near future, the demands for blood are satiated and the story goes away.

    It’s all very clever.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    It must really annoy you that the assembly is two votes away from legalising marriage equality, and will almost certainly legalise abortion in the case of fatal fetal abnormality later this year.

    You are on the losing side of this debate – and it will keep going downhill from here.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Robin, you really have a very poor grasp of Northern unionists/Protestants/non-nationalists.

    I think Tmitch on this site would be a good person for you to talk to if you are following slugger and northern politics for academic reasons.

    The main reason for a great deal of northerners not to have a UI is simply to sicken SF.

    That’s my no.1 reason for not wanting a UI (though there are others) and I’m considered a light weight unionist/Lundy.

    The arguments for a UI are actually quite logical and they do appeal to me sometimes after a hard day of talking to fleggers, but 30 seconds with a Shinner has me reaching for my union fleg…

    Ask yourself “why is this? How can a party have such a psychological effect on people? How do we get around this?”

    Then you might find the UI project making gains as opposed to hanging around and waiting for Protestants to emigrate or die of old age which is pretty much the current strategy.

    In fact, hypothetically speaking, IF the Protestant population was increasing quicker than the Catholic population would you still be a believer in SF’s strategy and their ability to partly deliver a UI?

    Or would you think that an alternative course should be taken?

    And if there is an alternative course rather than the sands of time then what would it be and why not implement it now?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Zigactly your Lordship.

    “Tell me what are the benefits of a UI to those from that particular ideological tradition


    It amuses me how this simple and fundamental question puts some nationalists on the back foot:

    SF: “Erm, less duplication of services?”
    Unionist: “You have a track record of supporting duplication of services…”

    SF: “Ah… you’ll have a bigger voice in a smaller house”
    Unionist: “We like being in a bigger house”

    etc etc

  • Thomas Girvan

    A week is a long time in politics.
    It will be forgotten like last night’s chips paper!

  • LordSummerisle

    Now I know you are not being serious ttfn.

  • Alan N/Ards

    I suppose the fact that a SF Stormont minister was taken to a tribunal for discriminating against a protestant (who won his case) doesn’t help. His party stood by him and refused to sack him. They seem to fall short of the ideals of the united Irishmen and of the Proclamation of 1916. Why should unionists trust them? As far as Jim Wells goes, the party should have removed him from the job of health minister.

  • Croiteir

    Not as much as it seems to horrify others that it was two votes below, and so far I am on the winning side.

  • Croiteir

    Does it?