In his interview with new Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin on various sports-related issues, Steven Beacom also quizzed her on the |controversial appointment of Mary McArdle as her special adviser
Q Do you accept that you made a mistake in hiring Mary McArdle as your special adviser?
Q Why not?
Mary and I are both former political prisoners. I was released well before the Good Friday Agreement and Mary was released the year before it. We, along with many others, played a role in bringing people to the peace process. We are a result of the conflict and need to be part of the future. You can’t on one hand claim to push, campaign and lobby for employment for ex-prisoners and not do it yourself. I think there have been many protagonists involved in this conflict and I’m certainly not going to start picking people on the basis of what may be acceptable or not acceptable.
Q But what qualifications has Mary McArdle for this post?
The role of special adviser primarily for me is about political advice, and Mary is well qualified to give me political advice.
Q How would you say she is well qualified, because of her history?
No, no, Mary is very astute and she is also very fair, very measured and balanced.
Q So, what process did she go through to get the job?
A In terms of?
Q Did you interview her? Was she the choice of other people or did you always just want her?
The party went through a process of appointing Mary and appointing me and at the end of the day Mary is appointed on my recommendation.
Q Did you ever think of the Travers family when making the appointment?
I didn’t make the appointment to upset the Travers family. I’m sure they probably feel that’s not the case, but I didn’t.
Q Did you think of them, though?
No, not specifically. I didn’t sit down and think: ‘Is this going to provoke a reaction’.
Q Would you do things differently now, now that you know the reaction?
No. To be honest the Travers family found out about Mary’s appointment through the media. I'm not saying that is the media's fault, but that's what happened. Equally, we have to get to the stage where people have to accept, as bad and as horrible as they feel about people’s appointments or placements or how they move on or don’t, there was a conflict, there was peace building and that’s still happening. We’re still on that journey ourselves and I can’t have anyone vetoing what I or anyone else does.
Q So you don’t see Mary as a liability in your department?
I’m privileged to have Mary McArdle in my department.
Q You don’t think you showed poor judgment then by appointing Mary McArdle.
No, I don’t.
Q Do you support the new review of special advisers.
Q Can you understand the anger shown by the Travers family?
I do. Their grief was very private and now it is very public — the same way I understand when Jean McBride, my neighbour, her son was murdered by the British Army, was angry when the two soldiers were acquitted and moved on to other posts. I understand all that. I lived and breathed all that. They have a right to grieve. I fully accept that.
Q You won’t be firing her then?
I have every confidence Mary will do a good job.
Q Have you a message for the Travers family.
A None. I’ve already spoken on this. There’s absolutely nothing I can say to Ann and the rest of the family that’s going to make any difference.
Q What is culture?
For me, what it means is supporting the experience of people’s every day living. This is where culture and arts become entwined and it’s hard to separate. It’s about celebration, it’s not just about people’s religion or points of view, it’s about what makes them smile and happy and how they identify themselves. In terms of arts, I think some of the big arts organisations thought my first interview was a bit of a smack to them when I said I wanted to find out how kids from the Tiger’s Bay and New Lodge can get into the Lyric and how the Lyric can get into Tiger’s Bay and the New Lodge. That’s what I firmly believe. I was born and reared in those areas and I would never have thought of going, so why not? I never felt I belonged there. Why not?
I want to bring culture and arts to people who haven’t been exposed to it before. I think arts and sports are a great medium to celebrate and promote culture. I want to use sport in particular and physical activity to look at suicide prevention issues. Fair play to Edwin Poots (Health Minister) because he is genuinely interested in that and we are going to meet about that. There have been lots of initiatives about that and ministers like me and Edwin Poots, who come from different political traditions, if we are seen to do something together it may help people who need it.
Q How do you get on with other Stormont ministers?
It’s very civil. I feel comfortable talking to any of them about joint initiatives.
Q How do you get on with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
A Well, I don’t know Peter as well as I know Martin McGuinness, but it’s, again, very civil.