Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

MLA avoids suspension over comments

Assembly members narrowly voted against imposing the seven-day suspension on South Down MLA Jim Wells

A Democratic Unionist politician accused of calling a Sinn Fein ministerial adviser a murderer in the corridors of Stormont has avoided a week-long ban from the Assembly.

Members narrowly voted against imposing the seven-day suspension on South Down MLA Jim Wells after an angry debate in the chamber.

The inflammatory claims related to encounters Mr Wells had with Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and her then special adviser Mary McArdle in June last year.

Ms McArdle's appointment to the post, which she has since left, was met with a storm of controversy as during the Troubles she was convicted of involvement in the 1984 murder of magistrate's daughter Mary Travers in Belfast.

In two encounters in Parliament Buildings - one with Ms Ni Chuilin and one with Ms McArdle - Mr Wells made clear his feelings about the special adviser.

Details of the incidents were outlined to the Assembly by deputy chair of its Standards and Privileges Committee Kieran McCarthy.

Ms Ni Chuilin claimed Mr Wells was "very angry, venomous and intimidating" during their encounter and had said: "You needn't think you are going to bring that murderer to South Down."

In the later episode, Ms McArdle claimed Mr Wells was "forceful, aggressive and intimidating" to her and, as he passed her on the first floor corridor, said: "There is the murderer herself."

Mr Wells accepted both encounters took place but challenged the two women's version of events. He said he did not call Ms McArdle a murderer but conceded he used the phrase "monster adviser".

The debate inside the chamber was ill tempered and saw repeated verbal clashes across the benches. Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane claimed Mr Wells's behaviour was nothing to do with the Troubles. "This is not about what happened in our conflict in the past, although Jim and his mates might try to dress it up as that," she told the Assembly. "This is about anti-Catholicism, sectarianism and misogyny."

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