Northern Ireland

Special advisers bill: SDLP to discuss its position

The issue of special advisors to Stormont ministers is controversial
Image caption The issue of special advisors to Stormont ministers is controversial

The SDLP is to meet later to discuss the issue of Stormont special advisers.

It comes after the SDLP's former deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, warned the party against blocking a bill to prevent ex-prisoners guilty of serious offences getting such posts.

The TUV brought the bill after ex-prisoner Mary McArdle was appointed as an adviser to a Sinn Fein minister.

On Monday, Mr Mallon, a former deputy first minister, accused the SDLP of "putting two fingers up" to unionists.

"I hope the party changes its mind and I will do my best to ensure that they do," Mr Mallon said.

A row broke out two years ago, after Mary McArdle got the adviser's post. She had been convicted of killing Catholic teacher Mary Travers in 1984.

Ms McArdle has since moved to a different position within Sinn Fein.

Ms Travers was shot dead by the IRA as she walked out of Sunday Mass with her father, resident magistrate Tom Travers, in Belfast in 1984.

Mr Travers was shot six times, but survived. He died in 2009.

His other daughter, Ann, is backing the bill and met the SDLP last week in a bid to change their minds.

The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) brought forward the bill that seeks to ban anyone who has been sentenced to more than five years in prison from taking up a post in the future.

Sinn Fein, which has 29 MLAs, is opposed to the bill and if the party joined forces with the SDLP's 14 MLAs, both parties would be able to secure a petition of concern.

This could be used to stop the bill from becoming law.

The petition requires 30 or more signatures and triggers a cross-community vote in the assembly.

Last week, an SDLP MLA had indicated his party would seek to block the special advisers bill because they were unable to amend several aspects of it. The party said the legislation did not have an effective appeals mechanism.

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