Advisers bill is passed at Stormont

Published Monday, 03 June 2013
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A controversial bill banning ex-prisoners from becoming Stormont special advisers has been passed by the Assembly.

Advisers bill is passed at Stormont
The bill bars ex-prisoners from becoming Stormont advisers. (© Getty)

Fifty-six MLAs voted in favour of the Special Advisers Bill and 28 voted against it, following a lengthy and heated debate on Monday.

Sinn Féin put forward a petition of concern but failed to gain the one signature they needed to block the bill from becoming law.

The SDLP, which found itself holding the balance of power, chose to abstain.

The bill was proposed by TUV leader Jim Allister following the appointment of Mary McArdle in 2011 as adviser to Sinn Féin Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.

Ms McArdle had been convicted of involvement in the IRA murder of 22-year-old Mary Travers, the daughter of Resident Magistrate Tom Travers, almost 30 years ago.

She vacated the position in March last year following a campaign by the victim's sister, Ann Travers.

Mr Allister said the legislation should be known as "Ann's Law" in tribute to her.

"This House - this community - owes a tremendous debt to that lady, who spoke with such compelling candour, honesty and persistence on behalf of all innocent victims," he said.

"Never again, never again will such re-traumatising of a victim's family be permitted. This Bill, first and foremost, is about righting that wrong and about saying that never again should it happen to anyone else."

Sinn Féin and the SDLP had opposed the Private Member's Bill during its further consideration stage, after a number of proposed amendments were rejected.

Despite initial suggestions, the SDLP then announced they would not sign a petition of concern which would block the bill in Stormont, after meeting with Ms Travers in private.

Ann Travers said she is "so pleased" to see the changes go through.

She continued: "I loved my sister Mary who was beautiful, gifted, talented - didn't deserve to die the way that she did, but certainly didn't deserve to have her memory stamped on."

I am so pleased that I have done everything I have done

Ann Travers

Unionist members of the Northern Ireland Assembly supported the bill, while 27 members of Sinn Féin and Stephen Agnew of the Green Party voted against it.

Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay drew accusations of filibustering as he delivered a two-hour speech branding the bill "discriminatory".

Speaking after it passed, the North Antrim MLA said: "The SDLP today were led away from the Good Friday Agreement and onto the ground of discrimination and inequality by rejectionist unionist Jim Allister.

"Sinn Féin will continue to oppose discrimination in employment and in every other aspect of the operation of government. We will never accept discrimination and inequality and the opposition to this Bill will continue in the time ahead."

The new law means one of the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness' special advisers, Paul Kavanagh, is set to lose his job.

He served 14 years in jail for his part in an IRA bombing in England in 1981.

Earlier some victims of the Troubles travelled to Stormont to urge politicians to block the law, while others spoke out in support of it - demonstrating the divisiveness of the issue.

Jude Whyte, whose mother was killed in a UVF bomb attack in 1984, has said the bill is "discriminatory and elitist".

He said: "It's directed at a very small number of people who, overwhelmingly, although I don't know any of these people individually, I do believe they have been working for the peace process for the last 30 years."

But later Serena Hamilton, whose off-duty soldier father David Graham was shot dead by the IRA in Co Tyrone in 1977, backed the bill.

She said: "They should not have high-powered jobs. My father is lying six foot under and has been for 36 years, and we have lost out in every aspect of life. They have got a high-powered job, they are being glorified and they are being rewarded for what they have done."

I would like to think that this House could go further than the debate on this bill to deliver an equal, ethical plan for dealing with our past

Dominic Bradley

Campaigners representing families bereaved as a result of state actions said they felt let down by the SDLP, and some challenged the party's Foyle MLA Colm Eastwood.

Explaining the SDLP's stance, MLA Dominic Bradley said there were "flaws" in the bill and the only approach they could take was to abstain.

He said: "We think that it is flawed but in a situation where victims are being so sadly neglected for political reasons, the lesser evil in this case is to abstain and I believe that is an honourable position and indeed it is an ethical position."

Meanwhile Unionist politicians welcomed the passing of the bill.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "I pay tribute to the focus, determination and courage of Ann Travers in the face of despicable abuse from some sections of Irish Republicanism.

"She was determined that the memory of her sister Mary and others would live on. She has ensured that the voices of innocent victims will not be silenced."

Alastair Ross of the DUP said: "It's a victory for victims and a victory for Ann Travers.

"Unionists worked together on this issue and that's good, it's an example of cooperation in the Assembly and we were pleased as a party to be able to back it through its passage and ultimately see it into law."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
77 Comments
Tommy Atkins in London, England wrote (415 days ago):
So Eamo Ms Travers was wrong to bring the murder of her father up. If you find this repugnant, then why are you not following your own logic and complain about Nationalist ressurecting shootings by the security forces. You see David the sword needs to cut both ways in order to move on. Do you not think so yourself?
Eamo in Belfast wrote (415 days ago):
To dave in the UK these very people have served their time and should not have to be punished again. They have spent the last 20 odd years promoting peace and who better to advise our ministers. About the UDR and RUC i think the murderers there should be brought before the courts as they have evaded this for far to long. There were people preaching hate who never went to prison for incitement.
Vic in Belfast wrote (417 days ago):
The SDLP should be hanging thier heads in shame, how could a party with "social" in it's title help bring forward such a piece of disciminatory law. maybe republicans should sit at the back of the bus. I am proud of the IRA because of thier stand against a brutal secterian terrorist state my sons will know a freedom that was denied us by the likes of Allister. I am sorry for the loss of any life I have lost But I am still proud of the men and women who fought and gave up so much for us.
mb in Beal Feirste wrote (417 days ago):
catch yourselves on. paramilitary organisations .or call them whatever have had a hand in running this country since uvf/ira delegates met downing st officials in the seventies. ann travers seems to me to be vindictive. my father was murdered by the British in 1972.he was totally innocent as proven by a coroner. do you hear me whinging. ..this country will never be at peace because of pure sectarian hatred and people thinking they are above the law.the british government needs to get us some real mps with a bit of courage to get this country back on its feet.
H.Campbell in UK wrote (417 days ago):
The real question is this - Is the war over or not ? Retrospective punishments will do nothing to bring about peace. I find it galling that RUC Personnel who colluded with paramilitary killings, perhaps on behalf of the state, have since retired on their gold plated pensions while paramilitary crimes are continually being revisited. The true losers in all of this are the Social Ditherers and Losers Party. If Mr.McDonnell was in disagreement with parts of Sunny Jims bill then they should have held firm and waited until required amendments were completed and found to be acceptable in their eyes. Abstentionism,in this instance, is for the chicken coop. Being the fence sitters they are they chickened out following Brid and Seamus's pronouncements. It appears to me that the real leaders of SDLP are sat at home by their firesides.
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BRIAN ROWAN
The pictures from Stormont this week showed us how politics here still walks in and out of step.
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