Arlene Foster launched a ferocious attack on former MLA DUP Jim Wells after backing the TUV Assembly candidate.
She accused Mr Wells of not accepting her DUP leadership as a woman and said she was “still living in the 1970s”.
The former DUP leader said the party, which had been “electing a female unionist as possible” to run for the South Downs constituency in May, was “too mobile for Jimmy”.
Mr Wells denied Foster’s comments and said he had never been forgiven for supporting the ouster of the DUP leader.
The outgoing MLA, which had represented the DUP in South Down since 1998, left the party after supporting Harold Mac County’s TUV candidate.
The former Minister of Health was disqualified as the DUP’s candidate in that party.
He had previously supported the DUP’s Edwin Poetz’s attempt to move from the Lagan Valley to the South Downs, but declined to support Diane Forsyth after he was elected by party officials.
Potts later moved to South Belfast after replacing Christopher Stanford of the party’s MLA after his untimely death.
Ms Foster left the DUP leader after riots within the party last year, and Mr Wells backed Mr Potts in his place.
In a series of tweets, Ms Foster criticized Mr Wells and supported Ms Forsyth’s candidacy.
The former Prime Minister tweeted: “If Jim Wells’ friend, Edwin Potts, is elected in the South Downs, Jimmy will not support the TUV candidate.
Jim couldn’t stand his way so he threw his toys out of the wheelchair and went with the boys.
“The fact that Diane Forsyth is a skilled unionist is superfluous to Jimmy.”
She added, “As never before, I couldn’t stand being a woman and party leader and keep agitating myself.
“Jimmy is still living in his 70s – it’s sad, but it is.
“Voters in South Down have a choice: principled, effective, active representation in Diane Forsyth (who they haven’t had with Jim Wells for years) or someone backed by Jim Wells who thought he could impose his will on voters. The South as if the place is hers and not hers.
“I believe in the feelings and sensibilities of ordinary voters who are all equally powerful on May 5th. Good luck to dianejforsythe and all those who are practicing politics not for themselves but for the country. #AE22 #ThisGirlCan.”
In response, Mr Wells flatly denied Ms Foster’s comments and expressed support for more women in politics.
He noted that when he was asked in an interview a few years ago to name a politician he adored outside of the DUP, Claire Hannah chose the SDLP.
Mr. Wells added: “I have never had the slightest difficulty with any woman on a personal level. I have two daughters.
I was against the South Down candidate, man or woman.
“It’s her politics and not the fact that she’s a woman, so I’m pissed off at what Arlene said.”
“I think the reason behind this is that Arlene has never forgiven me for calling for her leader to be impeached,” he added.
Previously, Mr Wells had publicly supported Mackey, the TUV South Down candidate, calling him a “confident politician, not a good fit”.
He said: “When I leave the house, it is my sincere desire that South Down seek to follow the Uniform Anti-Money Laundering Act whose policies are based on faith and principles.
“Of the candidates, Harold Mackie is the distinguished candidate with such credibility.”
Mr. Mackey, who served briefly in the UUP’s South Down MLA in 2016, left the party last year after claiming his Christian faith conflicted with Doug Petty’s leadership.
A counselor from Newry, Morne, and Dawn criticized Petty for his stance on abortion, same-sex marriage and gay conversion therapy in Stormont.
Then go to TUV.
Mr. Mackie welcomed Mr. Wells’ approval and praised him for a “decade of dedicated service” in South Down.
TUV leader Jim Alistair also welcomed Wells’ support, saying he “puts principle before party”.
Read more: DUP Jim Wells supports TUV Association candidate
Read more: Arlene Foster and Naomi Long in bitter online debate
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