Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

War of words on McArdle appointment rumbles on

PACEMAKER BELFAST 2/6/2011Mary McArdle, OF SINN FEIN WHO HAS SAID THAT THE 1984 MURDER OF MARY TRAVERS WAS A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY.Mary McArdle was part of an IRA gang who ambushed magistrate Tom Travers and his family as they left Mass.Ms McArdle told the Andersonstown News - in her first public comments since she was appointed as special adviser to Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin - that she regretted that it happened and she did not believe anything she said could ease the family's grief."If I were to begin to describe the specific context of conflict I would be accused of trying to justify her death, and I have no wish to do that."

The controversy over the appointment of Mary McArdle as a special adviser at Stormont has not gone away you know. I was surprised by the level of support for my argument in last week's column that, while ex-prisoners are praised for helping to construct the peace process, more credit should really go to the great silent majority - those who never fired a shot, or planted a bomb.

It is evident that Northern Ireland has many people who feel they are being trampled upon by the insensitivity of appointments such as that of Ms McArdle - a convicted murderer - to her highly-paid post.

In spite of the many voices of criticism and condemnation of her appointment, she will probably remain in her job.

The general public appears powerless. The best anyone can hope for is that the sense of outrage expressed so eloquently and movingly by Ann Travers, will not be lost totally on the conscience of those who made the appointment in the first place.

There are clearly two distinct camps: those who were active, or passively, involved in past violence, or what they like to call "conflict".

Their reaction to my column was: "If it hadn't been for republicans and loyalists, there would have been no peace."

However, in another camp is the silent majority which is not so silent any more. One reader asked: "How many killers on either side of the divide have made heartfelt apologies to their victims' families?"

Another wrote: "It's like the playground bully asking to be thanked because he's stopped beating us."

The controversy over Ms McArdle has thrown a spotlight on the position of Stormont special advisers. Unlike MLAs, advisers are unelected and the selection process is far from transparent.

The posts appear to be filled without any recourse to the rules of equal opportunity and fair employment legislation, which are so important in public life in Northern Ireland.

This implies one law for the politicians and another for the people. Nor is it acceptable to many that an unelected person with a conviction for the most brutal and cold-blooded of murders can receive an annual salary of £78,000 of the public's money.

The inquiry into the appointments of so many special advisers at Stormont is timely. I hope the conclusions are not pigeon-holed if and when the furore over Ms McArdle's role simmers down, because questions need answers.

Who are these people? What special qualifications do they have to warrant the substantial income they receive?

How can a salary from public funds of £78,000 - nearly double an MLA's income - be justified in the current economic climate?

Transparency is required. In the meantime, as Ms McArdle takes up her post, those responsible for choosing her should know that many people in this community are far from enamoured.

Ms McArdle's appointment has awakened people to the fact that a violent past is being sanitised. The barbarity of the Troubles is in danger of being air-brushed from our history.

The past cannot be smoothed over that simply. No republican or loyalist ex-paramilitary or ex-prisoner should ever underestimate the difficulty many decent ordinary people have in accepting them in the guise of reformed peacemakers.

That said, distinctions are drawn between elected representatives, who have subjected themselves to the public scrutiny of the ballot box, and a special adviser, such as Mary McArdle, who has not.

For example, a reader writes: "Some people, like Martin McGuinness, seem to be able to go about their business in a dignified and respectful manner. Their actions show that they are moving forward. Others feel they are owed something because they have stopped murdering..."

People may not wish to be reminded of the brutality that went before the peace process, but neither do they forget who was responsible for most of it, nor wish to see the awful truth distorted and embellished.

In an ideal world, no one at Stormont should have any blood on their hands. That some do is a price which the silent majority is prepared to pay.

It does not mean that the murders of innocent citizens, such as Mary Travers, can be dismissed as 'tragic mistakes'. Nor does it mean that the feelings of the silent majority, who abhorred such acts, can be ignored.

The hierarchy of Sinn Fein, in approving the appointment of Mary McArdle, has ridden roughshod over people's feelings.

The message needs to be driven home that this was a gross misjudgment deeply offending many reasonable people.

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