Jim Wells urges DUP to pick Poots for South Down saying he could go independent if Forsythe runs

DUP MLA Jim Wells has said he would consider running against the party in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections as an independent if Edwin Poots is not selected for South Down.

A decision by party officers to run Diane Forsythe in the constituency has been put to the party executive for ratification.

Mr Wells said officials should overturn the decision and go with his friend Edwin Poots saying the veteran politician could win the seat. He said it was his idea that the minister attempt to switch constituencies after he learned of his deselection.

Mr Wells, who has been in politics for 46 years, told UTV he was "shocked and saddened" at the party's decision to deselected him as a candidate, admitting his political future "doesn't look good".

He lost the party whip four years ago after speaking out against the then leadership of Arlene Foster. While outside the Assembly grouping, he remained a member of the party.

While Mr Wells has no plans to run in May's scheduled election he would not rule out putting his name on the ballot if the DUP party executive endorsed Friday night's decision to run Diane Forsythe as their candidate for the area.

The former health minister expressed confidence that the party executive would overturn the decision and install Mr Poots as the candidate.

Mr Wells said he had first approached Mr Poots about running in South Down after he was not chosen to go forward and contest the seat.

Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

He said: “I did an interview on December 20, which didn’t go well and I think I knew that my goose was cooked after that.

“Just after Christmas I received an email to say that I hadn’t been selected.

“The nature of the questions indicated to me that I was in a bit of a struggle and I knew that there was another candidate and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to make it, so then I approached Edwin Poots.

“Edwin has behaved completely impeccably throughout.

“I had been talking to Edwin Poots about his situation (in Lagan Valley) and I approached him and he put his name forward for South Down.”

The DUP currently faces an electoral headache in Lagan Valley with three of the party’s biggest names potentially running in the same constituency where it currently holds two seats.

Mr Poots and First Minister Paul Givan currently represent Lagan Valley, while party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he will also seek a return to Stormont in the constituency.

This led to Mr Poots seeking to switch to South Down, and the decision by party officers on Friday to instead endorse former Westminster candidate Ms Forsythe.

Diane Forsythe

Mr Wells said: “I am absolutely mystified as to why he (Mr Poots) wasn’t selected.

“I thought it was important that we had an experienced candidate and they don’t come much more experienced than Edwin Poots.

“I just assumed that he would be selected. Four times a minister, former party leader, former party vice chairman, so therefore I was absolutely gobsmacked on Friday night when he wasn’t.”

When asked if he would consider running as an independent, Mr Wells said: “I certainly will not be running against Edwin Poots. I am determined to get Edwin Poots selected at the central executive committee, and then I’ll be campaigning for him.”

DUP party officers have chosen Diane Forsythe as their candidate for South Down Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

When asked what he would do if Ms Forsythe is confirmed as the DUP candidate for South Down, he said: “The phrase I have is: no plans to run as an independent, but I will keep options open.”

Asked to confirm that he was not ruling out running as an independent, he said: “I would consider it, but I have no plans at the minute to run as an independent.”

Mr Wells said Edwin Poots had been left disappointed by the outcome of Friday’s meeting.

He added: “He is hurt because it was done in a blaze of publicity.

“That disappointment then turned to resolve and he said he is absolutely going to take this to the decision-making body.

“Nobody has been selected for anywhere yet, these are simply recommendations to the ultimate decision making body.

“They will decide who the candidates are, nobody else.”

He added: “It is absolutely imperative that we get that experienced candidate in the field. He will win South Down, I am absolutely confident he will win that seat.

Jim Wells, DUP MLA for south Down, during an interview with PA news agency Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“I think there is a DUP seat there but I would want the candidate to have the experience and also to have the same vision of the DUP that I have.

“I think the chances are enhanced if Edwin Poots is the candidate.”

Speaking of Ms Forsythe, he said: “She doesn’t have the same view of the way forward as I have, it is as simple as that.

“Edwin would be more traditional and would be old-fashioned DUP, which I am.”