A Sinn Fein special adviser jailed for life over the murder of a magistrate’s daughter has received loyalist death threats, the party has said.
But Mary McArdle is not having second thoughts about taking up the Stormont role, her boss, the Culture and Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has insisted. “She is going nowhere,” the North Belfast MLA said.
Controversy has raged since it emerged McArdle, who was convicted for her part in the 1984 shooting of primary school teacher Mary Travers, was appointed to the £78,000-a-year post.
But, in a dramatic turn of events yesterday it was announced both she and Ms Ni Chuilin, along with former junior minister Gerry Kelly, received police warnings of a threat from the Orange Volunteers — seen as a flag of convenience for loyalist paramilitaries — in the last 24 hours.
The threat said bombs had been placed outside their homes and that workers in their offices would also be killed. The premises were searched — one of the Sinn Fein figures had a teenager at home studying for exams — and neighbours warned.
The PSNI said its inquiries were continuing but the threats were being taken seriously.
Announcing the sinister development at Stormont, Mr Kelly said: “Remember that quite a number of elected representatives from Sinn Fein have been killed over the years, so that's the way we have to approach this. We will always act carefully on security.”
But the North Belfast MLA said he believed politicians and certain elements of the media bore some responsibility for the situation in relation to reports over the appointment of McArdle, who was freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
“There were 25,000 people from the republican community who passed through jail, it was not an uncommon thing. Are you going to say none of them deserve a job?” Mr Kelly said the DUP had been “quite cynical” on the issue, given the party’s links to the Ulster Resistance movement and the fact that some of its elected representatives had been members of the security forces. And he said the SDLP’s Alban Maginness had joined in with the DUP.
“This organisation (the Orange Volunteers) has appeared on a number of occasions, particularly in north Belfast, over the years. The last connection I know it was attached to was the LVF (Loyalist Volunteer Force), but who knows?” Mr Kelly added.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said on Twitter the appointment was “insensitive and a mistake”, while Gregory Campbell urged Sinn Fein to appoint someone else.
The Sinn Fein Culture Minister said she had not personally insisted on the appointment of Ms McArdle, following an appearance before the Assembly’s Culture and Arts committee yesterday where the issue of the appointment was not raised by unionist or other members.
Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was born and bred in the New Lodge. A former ‘political prisoner’, she spent more than a decade as the co-ordinator of Tar Anall, a group dealing with the needs of former prisoners and their families. Before that she spent four years in prison after serving a eight-year sentence on explosives charges.
A graduate of social studies with the Open University, she was first elected to the Assembly in 2007, after representing the Oldpark area on Belfast City Council.