Belfast Telegraph

Unionists clash over McArdle row

Rival unionists have clashed in the Assembly over a call for public spending to be frozen in protest at Sinn Fein's appointment of a convicted killer as a ministerial adviser.

Hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister urged MLAs to vote down a "supply resolution motion", which formally authorises all government spending, because he said the measure helped pay the salary of adviser Mary McArdle.

But DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the tactic would bring Northern Ireland's public sector to a halt and accused Mr Allister of trying to play "Pontius Pilate" over the financial measure.

Several hours of debate were set aside at Stormont to discuss the procedural move, which gives the green light to all spending by Assembly departments, but which allows MLAs to debate budgetary plans. As the discussion opened, Mr Allister interrupted the minister to ask: "Is it correct that the supply resolution today will, amongst other things, authorise the public salary, public pension and whatever else entitlements of the convicted murderer Mary McArdle as a special adviser in DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure)?

"Is that the sort of expenditure we are being invited to vote through today? And if it is, can the minister accept that any MLA who is genuinely offended by that obscenity of employing such a convicted murderer would have good cause not to vote for this motion?"

Sinn Fein recently sparked controversy by appointing Ms McArdle to assist the party's Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin. The new adviser was jailed for being part of an IRA gang that ambushed magistrate Tom Travers and his family as they left mass in Belfast in 1984, killing his 22-year-old daughter daughter Mary.

Mr Wilson told Mr Allister that he shared concerns over the appointment and said he had ordered a review of the selection of special advisers.

But the minister attacked Mr Allister's comments and said: "Is he saying that in order to make the point that he wishes to make, that he would prefer to see that this supply resolution is not voted through, so that no spending - and let's make it quite clear - no spending either on salaries or on grants or on service delivery or on capital projects or on the whole range of things which this Executive and this Assembly is responsible for?

"Is he saying that he wants to vote, and wants the Assembly to vote, in that way so that Northern Ireland grinds to a halt?

"I suspect he doesn't. I suspect that this is what he wants, that he can Pontius Pilate-like stand and wash his hands and say, `I will not vote for this but, I hope that all the rest of you vote for it, because I don't want Northern Ireland to grind to a halt. There are lots of other things that I don't particularly like in the spending programme of the Assembly. Nevertheless, we've come, as a coalition, to compromises on how the money will be spent."

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