Stormont faces appointment test

Sinn Fein is under heavy pressure to sack one of its new Stormont advisors as a controversy continued over her appointment this week.

The family of Mary Travers, who died in an IRA attack against a British magistrate in 1984, have taken deep offence at the appointment of Mary McArdle as a Sinn Fein advisor at Stormont. Ms McArdle, a former IRA prisoner, was involved in the attack.

A front-page newspaper interview with Ms McArdle last week inflamed the issue. The DUP leader and First Minister, Peter Robinson, has now ordered a review of how special advisers are appointed, setting up a major political showdown with Sinn Fein.

Martin McGuinness said that he fully respected why the Travers family has been angered by Ms McArdle’s appointment as special adviser to new Sinn Fein culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

But the top politician indicated that his party would not accede to emotional demands from the victim’s sister, strongly supported by the unionist parties, for her to be sacked.

“My heart goes out to Ann Travers,” he said. “What she has gone through has been an awful experience, what happened to her sister was absolutely wrong and should not have happened.

“But it happened as a result of a conflict and as we have seen in other conflicts throughout the world, whether it be in South Africa, El Salvador, Nicaragua or here in the north, the big question that people have to answer is: are people who have been part of a conflict - are they entitled to have a role in building a better future, particularly if in many of these incidents over the last 15 years they have been involved in very positive and constructive work in trying to build a beller future for everyone?”

Ann Travers reacted angrily on Thursday after the former prisoner broke her silence on her appointment last month to admit the death was a mistake that she regretted. However, Ms McArdle stopped short of an apology.

Ms Travers said even if Ms McArdle had apologised it would not have been enough.

“‘Sorry’ would have helped but words are words,” she said.

“The IRA and Mary McArdle committed an action 27 years ago and now I think action is called for and the action is that she resign from that post.”

But Mr McGuinness signalled Sinn Fein would not change its decision. He highlighted the fact that IRA hunger-striker Leo Green’s appointment as a Stormont adviser when the power-sharing assembly was first set up did not prompt a controversy.

“There was no controversy about that at that particular time,” he said.

“There is controversy now because Ann obviously feels very hurt and I respect the fact that she feels the way she feels but if we were to apply the rule that people who were part of the conflict can’t be part of building a better future then Nelson Mandela would never have been president of South Africa.”

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