Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Ban on political advisers with jail record set to fail

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister

A senior Sinn Fein official whose job was under threat from a Bill stopping special advisers with criminal convictions holding Stormont posts looks set to be rescued by the SDLP.

Traditional Unionist Voice MLA Jim Allister's Private Member's Bill survived the 'further consideration' stage – the last chance for opponents to substantially change it.

The TUV leader (below) introduced the Bill in the aftermath of Sinn Fein's controversial appointment of convicted IRA killer Mary McArdle almost two years ago.

However, it now appears that the Bill will fall at the last hurdle after the SDLP strongly suggested the party would use a petition of concern to stop it becoming law.

The party had said it couldn't support Mr Allister's Bill unless its amendments were accepted yesterday – and none was.

"I don't think that we can be persuaded to live with the legislation," SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley told the BBC.

"We've made every attempt that we possibly could to shape this into good law, that hasn't been successful and I think at this stage we are considering supporting a petition of concern."

A petition of concern requires 30 MLAs' signatures. It triggers a vote that needs a majority of both unionists and nationalists, meaning the Bill would be stopped.

There was pressure on Sinn Fein to remove Paul Kavanagh. But the SDLP move means that the position of Mr Kavanagh, who has been a special adviser to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for several years, could be saved.

Mr Kavanagh, married to MEP Martina Anderson, was convicted of carrying out IRA bomb attacks in London during the 1980s, including the Chelsea Barracks bomb in which two passers-by were killed.

He is believed to be the last adviser in position who has a terrorist conviction. Sinn Fein last year moved McArdle, who was an adviser to Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin. As a special adviser – or 'Spad' – his salary could be up to £90,000.

Two Sinn Fein special advisers have already been subject to new vetting procedures introduced separately by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson. Aine McCabe and Jarlath Kearney (who replaced Ms McArdle) were both checked for criminal convictions, but have none.

Mr Wilson said a "great wrong" had been committed by the appointment of Ms McArdle, who was replaced after public outrage.

The Bill was subjected to more than 10 amendments, including from Mr Allister.

story so far

Hardline unionist Jim Allister introduced a Private Member's Bill in November 2011 following public outrage over the appointment of Mary McArdle as a special adviser at Stormont. Ms McArdle (48) was convicted for her role in the IRA ambush of magistrate Tom Travers as he and and his family emerged from church – an attack in which his daughter Mary was shot dead. McArdle, freed under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, was appointed as special adviser to Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin in 2011.

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