Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Sports Minister scores own goal

In an interview in this newspaper today, Culture Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has further stoked up the controversy over the appointed of a convicted murderer to the role of special adviser in her department.

The minister describes it as a privilege to have Mary McArdle in the highly-paid taxpayer-funded post. That is a word which will strike to the very quick of the family of Mary Travers, the young woman killed by an IRA gang of which Ms McArdle was a member. It is a hugely insensitive phrase in keeping with the insensitivity of the appointment in the first place.

To be fair to the minister, she did not duck any questions on the issue and made positive comments on the future of Windsor Park and her hopes for the success of the Northern Ireland football team.

But, while she says that she never anticipated the controversy over Ms McArdle's new role, she surely should have been more circumspect in her use of language now. Certainly the Travers family take a much different view, and quite rightly so.

Sinn Fein's position on the controversy is that many people were involved in violence during the Troubles and they deserve the chance to rebuild their lives and to contribute to the peace process. That is a valid viewpoint, but republicans know as well as anyone that building confidence in the political institutions here is an evolutionary process which has to be handled carefully.

Ms McArdle is entitled to rebuild her life and, no doubt, has had a valuable input into building peace. But to promote someone with her background to such a high-profile publicly-funded post - worth more than £80,000 a year - was always going to be a divisive decision at this stage of the evolution.

The party could, and should, have appointed someone else at this time. Her appointment was not one that was urgently required. Like all parties, Sinn Fein has to factor in the sensitivities of others when coming to political decisions. That would demonstrate a greater maturity than is currently visible.

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