Thursday 19 April 2018

Veteran DUP politican quits charity over its stance on gay rights

Jim Wells
Jim Wells

Jim Wells

Veteran DUP politician Jim Wells is standing by his decision to quit the National Trust over its support for gay rights.

Mr Wells told the Belfast Telegraph he was ending almost 30 years' involvement with the organisation and reversing his decision to leave it money in his will.

The South Down MLA said the National Trust's presence at Belfast's Pride parade on Saturday, and its initial decision to force volunteers at an English stately home to wear Pride rainbow badges, were among the reasons for his ending his membership.

Hitting out at the conservation charity, he said it would be better "staying away from controversial social issues" that had nothing to do with why it was set up.

Mr Wells was speaking after party colleague Emma Little-Pengelly voiced apparent support for the Pride parade.

In a tweet not mentioning the march, but clearly referring to it, the South Belfast MP said: "Best wishes to all my friends and constituents celebrating today - all should be able to live a proud life free from hate, abuse or persecution."

Comedian Jake O'Kane responded: "Instead of Tweeting, how about having a chat with your fellow party members? Maybe a good start should be Jim Wells?"

Alliance leader Naomi Long welcomed the DUP MP's apparent support for Pride, but added: "Emma now needs to back that up with action in the DUP."

Ms Little-Pengelly was not available for comment yesterday, and her party also refused to comment on the matter.

The apparent divisions in the DUP emerged as one of the biggest ever Pride parades was held in Belfast with thousands of people taking to the streets. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is banned.

Attending a Pride breakfast event, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was just a matter of time before the law was changed.

Among those who took part in the parade were uniformed members of the PSNI and Garda.

Mr Wells, who is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, told the Belfast Telegraph he was ending his involvement with the National Trust over its stance on gay rights.

"I worked for the National Trust for a decade and have been a member for 19 years. I have resigned and will now support other charities," he said.

Mr Wells was an employee in the National Trust's regional office for 10 years until he was elected South Down MLA in 1998. He then joined the organisation as a member.

"The National Trust did excellent work throughout the United Kingdom in the protection of property, coastline and gardens. I would have been a great supporter of the work that the Trust did," he explained.

He revealed that as well as giving up family membership, he would cease making further donations to the charity.

He added that he had planned to leave the organisation money as part of a legacy fund, but would no longer be doing so.

The DUP MLA said the organisation would be "very wise to keep out of controversial social issues which have little or anything to do with its main objectives".

An article on LGBTQ issues in the Trust's magazine, volunteers at a stately home in Norfolk being forced to wear rainbow, and the organisation's representation at Belfast's Pride parade were the reasons he gave for his ending his membership.

A post on the National Trust's Northern Ireland Twitter account showed images of a rainbow flag with its logo emblazoned on it, and people waving similar miniature flags. It tweeted: "Really fantastic to be part of #Belfastpride today. Supporting diversity and our LGTB colleagues."

At the weekend, the organisation reversed its decision to force volunteers at Fellbrigg Hall to wear the rainbow badges to celebrate the last lord of the manor, who was gay. Volunteers who refused to comply had previously been told they wouldn't be allowed to carry out public-facing duties. The Trust's support for gay rights was praised by Mrs Long, who disclosed that she had joined the organisation as the veteran DUP politician left it.

The Alliance leader said: "If Jim Wells resigns his National Trust membership then that's a private matter for him. The National Trust made a positive move to express solidarity with a marginalised group in society. I wanted to show them that there is support in Northern Ireland for their position and for treating LGBT people with equality and respect. The easiest way for me to do so was to join the National Trust. I did that, and other Alliance members have done the same."

Mrs Long welcomed Ms Little-Pengelly's tweet in support of Pride. "It's a positive development but Emma now needs to back that up with action in the DUP," she said.

"Supporting equality is a job for 365 days a year, not just for one day in the calendar. It is now incumbent on Emma to work for change within Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News