The Northern Irish health minister, the Democratic Unionist Party’s Jim Wells, has resigned after coming under severe criticism over comment about gay couples’ parenting.
In a statement released today, Mr Wells said caring for his sick wife was the main reason behind his early departure from the ministerial post.
However, the resignation comes as police told the BBC they are investigating comments made last week at a pre-election hustings event.
According to the BBC, which has video footage from the debate, Mr Wells said children raised by gay couples were ‘far more likely to be abused and neglected’. He later retracted the remark in an official statement in which he said he ‘regretted’ comments that were ‘wrongly made’.
In his resignation statement, Mr Wells said he was quitting to care for his wife Grace, who suffered two successive strokes and went through major heart surgery in the last three months.
He said: ‘The events of the last week have taken place against the backdrop of a difficult period. On the issue of comments I have made which have attracted significant publicity, I have already said sorry for the offence caused and acknowledged that the comments were factually inaccurate. At no time did I set out to hurt or offend anyone and it has upset me greatly that the comments made have caused distress to some within our community.
‘I am deeply saddened that some of those who represent a different viewpoint from me have attacked my family and me in a deeply personal, nasty and in some cases threatening way. Some of the outbursts on social media have been particularly abusive and menacing in nature.’
He added: ‘I really appreciate the opportunity I was given to be health minister. I will leave the department with great memories and a massive appreciation for the work being carried out at every level of the service.’
Mr Wells only took on the role as minister for health, social services and public safety on 23 September last year, replacing Edwin Poots who had been in the post since 2011.