Irish Republican News · June 7, 2013
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Former prisoners blocked from Stormont posts


A new law stopping many former PoWs from becoming ‘special advisers’ at Stormont is expected to be in place within weeks, after the nationalist SDLP failed to oppose it.

The assembly this week voted in support of a controversial private member’s bill by unionist hardliner Jim extremist, whose bill passed by 56 votes to 28.

The post of ‘Special Advisor’ is a lucrative appointment made by all Stormont Ministers, and the positions are jealously watched and guarded by all of the rival parties within the Six-County coalition.

The SDLP abstained from the vote, thereby blocking hundreds of former republicans prisoners from the Sinn Fein posts. The self-styled ‘party of civil rights’ also refused to support a petition of concern which could also have blocked the motion.

Allister, the leader of the tiny ultra-unionist Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), gave credit to high-profile unionist victim Ann Travers, who he said had made the bill’s passage possible. Travers’s sister, Mary, died when she was inadvertently caught in an IRA gun attack on her British magistrate father in 1984.

The SDLP had originally signalled that it would help Sinn Fein veto the bill by signing the petition of concern. However, in the aftermath of an “emotional” meeting with Travers, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell abruptly reversed that decision, much to the anger of Sinn Fein and the SDLP grassroots membership.

The new legislation outlaws anybody with a conviction of more than five years from holding a Stormont special adviser’s post. However, due to the arbitrary nature of the law, it could yet face a legal challenge in the European courts.

Sinn Fein’s Paul Kavanagh, who holds the post of Special Adviser to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, now faces bring ousted from a post which he has held for the past five years.

The publicly funded post carries a salary of up to #90,000 plus pension benefits, although Mr Kavanagh has said most of his money is given to Sinn Fein to pay for the party’s adminstration costs.

Earlier, the SDLP’s McDonnell had infuriated Sinn Fein during a radio interview when he appeared to advocate a hierarchy of victims, a concept which is anathema to republicans.

When asked why the death of Ms Travers’s sister should carry greater weight than that of Mr Kavanagh’s brother, who also died in the conflict, Mr McDonnell argued that victim Albert Kavanagh was “well down the pecking order”.

The comments, coupled to the sudden policy u-turn, have added to internal party pressures on the SDLP leader. The South Belfast MP has recently been accused by some of inviting unionist support to bolster his bid to hold onto his Westminster seat.

Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay rounded on McDonnell and the SDLP after the vote, and accused the party of abandoning the Good Friday Agreement, which explicitly states that there should be no discrimination against former prisoners.

He described the legislation as “discriminatory, sectarian and anti-peace process”.

“It has set victim against victim as it has attempted to reinforce the hierarchy of victims that republicans and nationalists are all too well aware of - it is bad and flawed law,” he said.

“The clear message from the SDLP is that those who suffered at the hands of the British state are at the bottom of Alasdair McDonnell’s pecking order of victims.”

Some republican traditionalists have dismissed Sinn Fein’s concerns over discrimination at Stormont, describing the appointments controversy as a fight over “snouts in the British trough”.

But campaigners for families bereaved as a result of state murders said they felt ‘let down’ by the SDLP.

Some of them directly challenged SDLP Assembly member for Foyle, Colum Eastwood, as he walked to the assembly chamber.

John Loughran, whose uncle was shot dead by the British Army in Belfast in 1973, said the legislation was “divisive and flawed”.

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© 2013 Irish Republican News