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The appointment of killer Mary McArdle is a step too far


Ann Travers

Ann Travers

Joe Keogh

Ann Travers

The agony of Ann Travers is heart-rending. Her recollections of how her father Tom was shot six times and her sister Mary was murdered by the IRA as they left Sunday Mass in 1984 are harrowing in the extreme.

No matter how much the peace process moves on, there are moments when terrorism, violence, armed conflict - call it what you will - returns to haunt us.

I suspect I was not alone in having a lump in my throat listening to Ann Travers speaking in such moving tones about the loss she has lived with for 27 years.

I well remember the day her father - a man of peace and principle, of faith and charity - was attacked for supposedly being part of the 'British war machine'.

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, but we live in a society where the brutal history of our past is being rewritten and embellished to suit a new generation's political tastes.

"A tragic mistake." All these years later from that Sunday morning outside St Brigid's Church in south Belfast, that's what the convicted murderer of Tom Travers' 23-year-old daughter now offers as an apology to us - the public who are about to fund her as a special adviser to the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

A tragic mistake? A tragic mistake? No, our ears are not deceiving us. That is the excuse Mary McArdle makes for the barbarity of killing a young and totally innocent girl outside her church, by her father's side, in cold blood.

Because of the public's desire for peace, Mary McArdle served only part of her sentence for her terrible crime. She is a lucky woman to be in the position she has today.

If she had proper remorse, she would hang her head in shame for the rest of her life, or find a role in life far removed from the position of prominence she has now been given.

The rehabilitation of ex-prisoners is an important aspect of modern society. No matter how hard it may be for victims of crime to accept, it has public and political support.

There are widely accepted procedures in place, but the level and pace of rehabilitation must be related to the past behaviour and psyche of ex-prisoners.

Child sex offenders are hardly likely to be given a role in schools. A careless driving conviction would not lead to a transport job. A thief would not make a bank clerk.

I could go on, listing the commonsense parameters of prisoner rehab, but let us come to the case of Mary McArdle.

So what did you do, Ms McArdle? You waited outside a Catholic church with an accomplice and with your gun loaded and ready.

Then, when you saw your target emerging, you and your accomplice went forward and shot Tom Travers, not once but several times, shot his daughter in the back and killed her and also put a gun to the head of her mother, but mercifully the gun jammed and she escaped death.

I think even Mary McArdle might agree that it takes a special breed of human being to carry out murder on such a callous scale. She reminds me of the killers in Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood, who drove into a small town in America, knocked on a family's door and murdered all who were inside.

Mary McArdle should be rehabilitated, but given the nature of her behaviour on that Sunday morning, she is fortunate not to require monitoring for the rest of her life.

The attack on Tom Travers and his daughter Mary crossed the threshold of terror in 1984 for ultimate callousness. He did not have a bodyguard. He was the softest of soft targets. He and his family were attacked outside their place of worship, an act of appalling sacrilege.

The simple point Ann Travers has made so eloquently is that she cannot believe our politicians at Stormont should accept Mary McArdle as a special adviser to an Executive minister.

We want the Executive to work. We want a new beginning. We want to share our society. But that does not mean that anything goes. The appointment of Mary McArdle is not just a premature step, but a step too far.

It does not enhance the peace process. It offends the process deeply and the MLAs at Stormont should stand up and say so.

That is the least the Travers family deserve.