Ann Travers gives evidence

Ann Travers Ann Travers appeared in front of the committee

From the moment it was confirmed Ann Travers would be giving evidence on Jim Allister's Special Advisers Bill, it was clear that today's session of the Finance and Personnel Committee would be more heartfelt and emotional than the average Stormont conclave.

Ann Travers has spoken strongly before about how her grief over her sister Mary's murder by the IRA in 1984 was compounded by the appointment of Mary McArdle as the culture minister's special adviser.

Wednesday had the added dimension that she found herself across the table from representatives of the party who gave Ms McArdle the job.

Before Ms Travers and Robert McCartney's sister Catherine took their places, the commitee had been hearing from some academics and the Human Rights Commissioner, Professor Michael O'Flaherty, on whether Jim Allister's proposed ban on former prisoners with serious convictions becoming advisers would be "human rights compliant".

Concerns on this score have been raised previously by the Attorney General John Larkin, and MLAs heard differing views on whether, if approved, the Special Advisers Bill would be open to challenge under either the European Convention on Human Rights or "emerging UN standards".

It was all very learned, but paled by comparison when Ms Travers asked where the human rights of victims figured.

She turned Mitchel McLaughlin's talk of a "hierarchy of victims" on its head, arguing that her family's sensitivities had not been given any consideration and that, as a victim, she felt herself placed on a rung on the ladder far below the victim makers of the Troubles.

Ms Travers wants Mary McArdle to provide her with full details about her sister's murder, but Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin responded by indicating that anything of that kind would not be forthcoming before there's a comprehensive agreement on dealing with the past.


Like the families now challenging the senior coroner's decision to suspend inquests into the deaths of their loved ones , Ms Travers finds herself embroiled in the current piecemeal approach to the past.

Whether a comprehensive truth commission-style body will ever be agreed is open to doubt.

In the meantime, families of Troubles' victims are left clutching at whichever avenue appears open, whether it's the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team, a fresh inquest, or in Ann Travers' case the recognition offered by Jim Allister's bill.

Although the Mary Travers case has generated many headlines and sparked yet another angry debate in the Stormont chamber on Monday, the magistrate's daughter isn't the only victim directly linked to a special adviser.

Metropolitan Police bomb disposal officer Ken Howorth was killed in 1981 by an IRA bomb left in a restaurant in Oxford Street.


Four years later Paul Kavanagh, now an adviser in the deputy first minister's office, was convicted of the murder.

Earlier this year Mr Howorth's colleague, Peter Gurney, told me about finding the remains of his friend's body, recognisable only by a fragment of the cardigan he always wore.

Of course, Mr Howorth was just one of many victims of the Troubles killed across the Irish Sea.

Today, families in Birmingham are holding a candlelight vigil to demand an inquiry into the 1974 pub bombings.

Like other families here in Northern Ireland, the relatives of the Birmingham victims want a public inquiry.

But given the prime minister's stated position that there will be no more "open ended costly inquiries", the Justice 4 the 21 campaign looks set to face an uphill struggle.

The West Midlands police have launched a review into the pub bombings, but my understanding is that they haven't approached the PSNI for assistance.

Indeed, yet another anomaly thrown up by the current fragmentary approach to the troubled past is that if a family's loved one was killed in Northern Ireland they can try to get some answers from the PSNI Historical Enquires Team, but if the murder took place elsewhere that avenue for trying to discover the truth isn't open.

Mark Devenport, Political editor, Northern Ireland Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    So who is? You?give me a break you hypocrite!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    #18 pearse

    you, like evryone else who starts with "you cant put a price on ..." arent the person picking up the tab.

    street activism isnt a substitute for ability, especially when the activism involves the murder of others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Ashmout,the only party i hear you refer to here is
    Sinn fein,all the other parties do the same thing.i dont see any mention of them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    There is no justification for Special Advisors being funded from the public purse, here or in any other part of the UK. They are there to provide partisan political advice on policy and should be funded by the parties themselves. Alternatively we have enough MLAs hanging around to provide this service to their Ministers as a capacity building opportunity, like the PPS role in Westminster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    SF wages etc were paid direct to SF and then SF doled out the industrial wage to its members. Same for SpAds. That is fundamentally wrong but is set to change. SF MLAs should get their salaries direct and individually donate to the party. SpAds are only part of it. We also fund SF ministerial drivers in this new age of trust - as well as £150k for SF's discrimination over public appointments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Strawbs,you cant put a price on 40 years of hands on experience,the majority of Sinn fein mlas and councillors have lived it the the most grass roots level and survived to tell the tale,they were not paid,sheilded or protected,and money or pay is not why they are in it,unlike others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    #15 dave. you are right but you still dont go far enough. my first point is unanswered that sf mla's recycle their pay back to sf. Do "consultatants" do the same? what qualifications do they have?

    ie they are maybe overpaid by sf with the intenmtion that they give OUR money to sf.

    cat got ur tongue peirce?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Dave,Now you all know how it feels,for over thirty years,nationalists in this country sat back and watched exactly that,jobs given to people because of their religion ,so pucker up guys the writings on tbe wall!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Pearse vs. everyone else. You're not going to agree on that point. How about instead agreeing that simply giving away what are effectively civil service posts to whomsoever you chose, without any equal opportunities recruitment process, is both illegal and unfair, whatever side of the divide you're on

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    You mean realism!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    no pearse the Travers family are victims of ira murderers. Your revisionism will not work,

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The Travers family are victims of the British occupation of the north.The sad part is they are allowing themselves to be used as a pawn in a cover up to try and cloud and silence the truth about other murders carried out by the British goverment,the same people her father worked for and indeed died for while trying to uphold their lies and murders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    @Pearse, since Mary escpated normal justice, perhaps a good witch hunt would be in order. Shall we try dunking her in a pond and see if she floats?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Its not a witch hunt, but a reflection of unease many people feel that yet again SF are trying to normalise their violent past. The IRA's campaign of terror was indefensible and a serial abuse of human rights over 35 years. The campaign diminished the cause of Irish Unity and left many Irishmen ashamed. The McArdle appointment was yet another SF misreading of the pulse of this society

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Whe. Will the witch hunt against Mary McArdle end,do the Travers family and the Mccartney family see they are being used as pawns by the British establishment to try and undermine Sinn fein and the peace process and the real search for truth and justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Do these so called consultants do what sf mla’s do, and give some of their pay to sf?

    As a taxpayer I think it would be disgraceful if not illegal for me to have to give money indirectly to sf

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Is there a middle ground for those (like Mary McArdle) who didn't do their time in full? That they shouldn't expect special treatment if they've not given back to society what they took away?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Sorry Chris, that last comment should have followed on from 3 but came after yours. I agree, there needs to be some consistency here. Clearly solicitors must be more important than politicians if the former can't practise with a criminal record while the latter can. The "consultant" scam can be addressed through tendering - again fairness and transparency are key.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    ..Gifting posts breaks the law. And it speaks volumes about our politicians that they don't even regard this as the issue but would rather focus on whether a convicted terrorist should get the post or not. Fair employment and one rule - the law - for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    There has to be a line drawn, you cant practice as a lawyer with a criminal conviction so why let our politicans. I'm not talking about minor crimes here we are talking about "serious" offences.
    There is a simple way around the employment rules which has been exploited for years and that is the person being employed as a "consultant". We still pick up the tab but have no say in their role.


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