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Victims advocate Ann Travers backing plan to curtail Stormont special advisers

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Resigned: former Spad Mary McArdle

Resigned: former Spad Mary McArdle

Resigned: former Spad Mary McArdle

Victims campaigner Ann Travers has called on MLAs to back a new law that will cut the number of Special Advisers at Stormont, and clarify the rules they must obey, and the limits of their powers.

In today's Belfast Telegraph, Ms Travers, who sister Mary was murdered by the IRA as the family left mass in south Belfast in 1984, makes an impassioned plea to Stormont politicians to support the Functioning of Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, introduced by TUV leader Jim Allister.

Ms Travers' concerns over Stormont Spads stems from the way in which a woman who was involved in the murder of her sister was appointed as a highly-paid Special Adviser role to the Sinn Fein Culture Minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, in 2011.

The Spad - Mary McArdle - resigned after a public outcry, and a law was passed banning anyone convicted of a serious offence from holding a Spad job.

But Ann was shocked when she learned that the new law had been circumvented.

"In evidence to the RHI Inquiry," she writes, "former Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir stated that Aidan McAteer, a man who was barred from holding office as a Special Adviser due to the Special Advisers Act, had been acting as a "super Spad" outside the official system.

"This was such an insult to all of those innocent victims who had supported me and were delighted when the law had been passed."

The Functioning of Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill seeks to address many of the issues which came to light as a result of the public inquiry into the RHI scheme - and put in place statutory obligations on issues of good governance.

The Bill, which is now at the Committee stage in Stormont, was introduced early this year, and has a total of 14 linked objectives.

The proposed Bill would make Spads subject to the processes and procedures of the disciplinary code operative in the Civil Service, and would impose a legal framework of rules on how they are appointed, their powers, and on how much they are paid.

Once the Bill completes the committee stage, it will come to the assembly to be debated and voted on.

If agreed by the MLAs, it will then go to Her Majesty for Royal Assent, and will then become law.

It's possible the Bill will be voted down by the Assembly, but Stormont sources were last night optimistic that enough cross-party support exists to get it over the line,

Belfast Telegraph