The picture posted on the DUP's Twitter feed of Jonathan Bell MLA and Rev Martin Smyth

The picture posted on the DUP’s Twitter feed of Jonathan Bell MLA and Rev Martin Smyth

THE DUP has appointed Jonathan Bell as the new Health Minister.

The Strangford MLA takes over from Jim Wells who dramatically quit over remarks that child abuse was higher among gay parents.

Mr Bell, 45, is a junior minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).

He has a busy in-tray at the Department of Health and Social Services.

The DUP politician – who fell 1,000 votes short of taking the south Belfast Westminster seat last week from the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell – will have to grapple with abortion legislation and pending court action over maintaining a ban on blood donation from gay men.

Also high on his agenda is prescription charges to pay for specialist drugs and recommended hospital closures.

Last month former south Belfast Ulster Unionist MP Rev Martin Smyth accused Mr Bell of “pulling a fast one” by getting him to sign his nomination papers.

Rev Smyth, the former Grand Master of the Orange Order, accused Mr Bell of misleading him in a row over nomination papers.

The DUP had said Mr Smyth was endorsing their candidate Jonathan Bell and had signed his nomination papers.

The DUP put up a message from the MLA on its Twitter feed, stating: “I am honoured that a senior statesman of Martin Smyth’s stature has signed my nomination papers.”

However, Mr Smyth says he told the DUP he had originally pledged his support to the UUP candidate Rodney McCune.

He also claims he only signed Mr Bell’s nomination papers because he was told he could also sign Mr McCune’s papers.

Mr Bell revealed in April that he had persuaded the former MP to sign his nomination papers.

However, Mr Smyth said that he told Mr Bell he had pledged support to his UUP rival.

Mr Smyth claimed that Mr Bell told him he could sign a number of nomination forms.

In an interview, Rev Smyth – who was the last unionist to hold the south Belfast seat – said he felt the DUP had misled him and he wanted them to withdraw his name.

“I think that Jonathan Bell was trying a fast one – they would be wise withdrawing my name,” he said.

Mr Bell has since said it was an honest mistake and he was removing Mr Smyth’s name from his nomination papers.

The DUP and Sinn Fein are today expected to hold high level talks today over plans for welfare reform.

Sinn Fein withdrew its support for the Stormont House Agreement claiming welfare reforms would hurt the worst off in society.


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