Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has said she feels “privileged” to have a former IRA killer as her special adviser.
In her first full interview about the controversial appointment of Mary McArdle as her adviser, the Sinn Fein minister told the Belfast Telegraph she did not believe she had used poor judgment in hiring the ex-republican prisoner — despite the public outcry over the decision. Ms McArdle spent 14 years in prison after being convicted of assisting in the murder of 23-year-old Mary Travers in 1984. The teacher was shot in the back shortly after leaving Mass in Belfast.
Last month McArdle was appointed to the role of special adviser to the Culture Minister prompting outrage from the Travers family and others.
Denying she had made a mistake hiring McArdle, the Culture Minister said: “I’m privileged to have Mary McArdle in my department.
“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.
“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.”
Caral Ni Chuilin said she didn't intend to upset the family of murdered schoolteacher Mary Travers.
“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.”
Asked whether she thought of the Travers family before hiring McArdle she said: “No, not specifically. I didn’t sit down and think: ‘Is this going to provoke a reaction’.”
The minister also confirmed that the decision to hire Ms McArdle was made by the |party based on her recommendation.
But Mary Travers’ sister Ann said she was “disgusted and sickened” at the Culture Minister's “patronising” decision to keep her sister's killer in her £78,000-a-year post. “I am disgusted with her as a minister. She showed a real lack of judgment.
“This is a friend of hers that she has given a job — sticking up for her buddy.
“They are belittling us now, just as they did in 1984,” she said.
“I am also disgusted with their attitude and I think they have no consideration for victims. They are showing their true colours. It's patronising — if she had stood down I would have felt that they were making an effort.
“I have no intention of meeting with Sinn Fein unless they are going to give me the answers I need to have.”
Meanwhile, SDLP leader|Margaret Ritchie has called for a ban on murderers being appointed as special advisers.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, she said: “I would be very happy if the Executive agreed there were not further appointments of people with murder convictions.
“The new rules must set higher standards.”
Minister Ni Chuilin said yesterday she was in favour of a review into the appointing of special advisers to Government departments.