Belfast Telegraph

Ex-prisoner adviser ban is passed

A controversial Bill to ban ex-prisoners convicted of serious offences from becoming ministerial advisers at Stormont has been passed by the Assembly.

A majority of MLAs voted for the contentious proposal to become law following a lengthy and often fractious debate at Parliament Buildings in Belfast.

The SDLP, which had found itself holding the balance of power inside the chamber, ultimately resisted vociferous calls from Sinn Fein and some victims of the Troubles to trigger an Assembly mechanism that would have stymied the legislative change.

Demonstrating the divisiveness of the emotive issue, other victims of the conflict also travelled to Stormont to urge politicians to back the legislation.

The Private Member's Bill was tabled by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister in the wake of Sinn Fein's appointment of former IRA prisoner Mary McArdle as adviser to its Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin three years ago.

Ms McArdle was convicted for her role in the IRA murder of judge's daughter Mary Travers in Belfast in 1984. Her hiring was met with outrage by Miss Travers' sister Ann, who campaigned vocally in support of Mr Allister's proposal.

While Sinn Fein has since moved Ms McArdle to another political role with the party at Stormont, one of the advisers to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is set to lose his job as a result of the Bill's passage. Paul Kavanagh, from Londonderry, served 14 years for killing three people in an IRA bombing campaign in England in 1981.

Addressing the Assembly during the debate, Mr Allister said he would like the legislation to be known as "Ann's law" in tribute to Ms Travers' campaigning. He said: "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."

After the vote, Ann Travers expressed her satisfaction.

She said: "I am so pleased that I have done everything I have done. 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."

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