Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Former prisoners to be barred from taking political adviser roles in Northern Ireland

Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA almost 30 years ago, and Jim Allister,TUV leader, listen to SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell speaking to the media at Stormont, Belfast
Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA almost 30 years ago, and Jim Allister,TUV leader, listen to SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell speaking to the media at Stormont, Belfast

A law barring former prisoners from becoming special advisers to ministers in the Northern Ireland is likely to come into force.

It will be a major success for a Wicklow-based woman whose sister was shot dead by the IRA and who campaigned for the measure.

The legislation has been championed by Ann Travers, a victims' campaigner bereaved by IRA violence.

Her sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA almost 30-years ago as they targeted her magistrate father, Tom Travers.

"I loved my dad and my sister Mary a great deal. Mary did not have a right of appeal unfortunately, she is lying six foot under," Ms Travers said.

"I will never get that chance again but I just want her memory to be upheld and other victims are saying we feel exactly the same."

Ms Travers said victims just wanted to be respected and acknowledged.

"I am not trying to bash Sinn Fein or ex-prisoners, it was done as a gut reaction for my sister," she said.

"It shows that victims' voices have got to be heard now, the politicians must listen to the victims, they must deal with the victims' issue, it cannot be swept under the carpet," said Ms Travers, who thanked the SDLP.

The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) brought forward the bill after former prisoner Mary McArdle was appointed an adviser to a Sinn Fein minister.

Ms McArdle was convicted of the murder of Mary Travers, a school teacher who was shot in an ambush as she left Mass with her father, a magistrate, in Belfast in 1984. The law would mean anybody with convictions bringing more than five years' imprisonment would be barred from becoming a special adviser, although they could appeal.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell confirmed his Stormont Assembly team would not sign a petition of concern which could have blocked the bill. However, he branded it "flawed".

Jim Allister, leader of the TUV, who proposed the bill, said victims across Northern Ireland would welcome the decision.

"My ambition for this law is that it might be referred to as Ann's Law," said Mr Allister, who described Ms Travers's testimony as a remarkable example of what "human courage can do and achieve".

Sinn Fein have opposed the legislation from the hardline unionist Mr Allister's special advisers, but they would need the support of another MLA to defeat it.

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay warned the "discriminatory" special advisers' bill went against the principles of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He described it as a "bad bill" and said Sinn Fein staff could potentially lose jobs.

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