SF Special Adviser and Mayoral appointments a big backward step

The appointment as a taxpayer-funded £60,000+ Special Adviser of someone guilty of murder is unacceptable in post-Peace Process Northern Ireland, as is the selection by Nationalists of a convicted terrorist to the position of Mayor. There comes a time we have to move on from such things even in a “peace process” which necessitates unpalatable compromises – and that time has passed.

The argument in favour is that such people were allowed out under the 1998 Agreement and are thus as free as anyone else to make themselves available and be appointed for such posts. Lobby groups do good work ensuring prisoners are reintegrated into communities and given fair opportunities. However, there are limits – and such appointments in 2011 vastly overstep them.

This is not the first Special Adviser or Mayor with terror convictions. However, the point is we are supposed to be moving into an era where every move we make is one of reconciliation. Such things are not for one “Community Relations Week” or one “Day of Remembrance”, they have to be constant and consistent. The pain caused by Sinn Féin through making such appointments therefore hinders progress.

Tom Elliott’s “scum” comments showed that he has not truly reconciled himself to the 1998 Agreement. However, Sinn Féin appears set on at least partially vindicating his claims by proving itself even less reconciled to it. What was the message it was seeking to send through such an appointment? Is there an implicit suggestion that terror pays? Perhaps most importantly of all, what does that say to dissidents?

There are also serious questions to be raised about the SDLP, without whose acquiescence the Mayoral appointment in Limavady could not have gone through. What kind of peace is it when terror continues to be rewarded?

We cannot go on sending out the message that a terrorist past is to be rewarded – forgiven arguably, but not rewarded. When we say it is “time we moved on” the implicit suggestion is that the victims should move on. In fact, it is time those who continue to justify past terrorist acts moved on and recognised the error of their ways, not least because we cannot afford to consign another generation to the notion that somehow conflict is “glorious”. It isn’t.


6 thoughts on “SF Special Adviser and Mayoral appointments a big backward step

  1. Alex Green says:

    A well considered piece.

    Questions that need to be answered.

  2. Seymour Major says:

    There comes a time we have to move on from such things even in a “peace process” which necessitates unpalatable compromises – and that time has passed

    “However, there are limits – and such appointments in 2011 vastly overstep them.”

    I have the same desire to be in the place you want us to be. Unfortunately, that is not going to be possible until the present generation of Sinn Fein politicians and activists retire. It is also odds-on that the decision-makers within Sinn Fein who allowed the appointment Ms. McArdle were themselves equally cupable of murder. Remember, it is a certainty that Martin McGuinness, though never convicted of murder, would have incited and conspired to murder many people, including (very probably) the victims of the Enniskillen bomb in 1987.

    There are no limits, except moral ones. It is useless trying to bring into politics moral arguments regarding Sinn Fein’s links with the IRA. The SDLP has been doing that for years. It has got them nowhere.

    It is pointless making any sort of fuss about these appointments whilst we quietly acquiesce in our acceptance of Sinn Fein being in politics. The Belfast Agreement was a dirty compromise. Most of us (the likes of Jim Allister apart) are going to have to accept its consequences of it for quite a few years to come.

    Tom Elliott’s “scum” comments showed that he has not truly reconciled himself to the 1998 Agreement.

    I agree. I wonder, sometimes, if he wishes that he could adopt Jim Allister’s position.

    “There are also serious questions to be raised about the SDLP”

    Indeed. They are the only party which is in a position to use these moral arguments against Sinn Fein politically. They have not hurt them. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is that it has been weak for a long time.

    Firstly, they have no leader (not even one waiting in the wings) with the ability to out-charisma Sinn Fein’s leadership. Secondly, their organisation on the ground has always been weak, in comparison to Sinn Fein.

    The communal political system pushes voters into chosing the party that they think will be strongest in representing their community. Morals, unfotunately, cut very little ice.

  3. Derek says:

    Seymour Major is absolutely correct. Ian your high moral ground is inappropriate. I am sure that you would have championed the Belfast Agreement as the only way forward, the alternative being endless blood letting.

    Remember Yeat’s poetic line, “tread lightly for you tread on my dreams”. The Belfast Agreement, with which I am sure you supported, was based on exactly that. The Republicans accepted the dreams of Unionists, and partition until a majority in NI could be persuaded otherwise, and the Unionist population accepted Republican aspirations and that prisoners from both sides,who had been involved in political inspired violence should be released. Most of those prisoners considered that they had fought a just war, whatever the general population might have thought of their activities. The logical continuum is that such persons, should be able to join society in whatever way they can. There cannot be split hairs over the backgrounds of some of our elected politicians and those they may choose to support them as advisers or in any other legitimate way.

    The Queen’s visit to ROI was based completely on the acceptance of the mutual dreams of the past. She recognuised the Republican memories and dreams encompassed in the Garden of Rememberance and the Irish Stare, through the President, recognised and accepted the memories and the facts arising from the Irish war dead who fought in two world wars for the Crown and their particular dreams for Ireland. Many citizens of ROI continue to this day to join the Crown forces and this is generally accepted by the populace of ROI.

    We are blessed with the opportunity to move on, and as memories fade, and unpleasant facts accepted, and put behind us, so we shall eventually have a shared society in whatever form that may be.

  4. James McKerrow says:

    Well, Saul of Tarsus did persecute christians and expressed satisfaction on their deaths – then he bacame an apostle himself. He did have a miraculous conversion between.

    David Trimble said that because you have a past doesn’t mean you cannot have a future.

    So yes, we are going through a painfull period when those with a past are playing parts in our future. As time passes, those without a past will replace those who have. At Stormont we are already fighting with petitions of concern rather than bullets, a step forward according to Peter Weir MLA.

    Obviously the appointment of Mary McCardle touched a raw nerve – it was a terrorist crime that registered on the memory banks, an attempt to wipe out a whole family bacause the head of that family was a magistrate, in order to terrorise other “Castle Catholics”.

    But there were also those who planned and authorised the murdurous assault, who were perhaps more implicated than Mary McCardle, an idealistic teenager who was the driver.

    The real question is what sort of society do we want to create in Northern Ireland? Do we want to be eternaly suspicious of the other side and forever divided, or do we want a society with mutual respect and opportunities for all? If the latter, there will be bitter pills to swallow, this being one of them. If we really want to move on as a society, there will be more bitter pills before we get there.

    But do have compassion for Tom Travers surviving daughter, who whitnessed her father and sister being gunned down on the steps of her church, and her mother saved only because the gun jammed, and would she have suffered the same fate otherwise?

    Cllr James McKerrow

    Mayor of North Down

    • Not for the first time, I’m actually harder line than you on such things, Your Worship!

      The problem here is that McArdle was plainly appointed *because* of her past. SF are entitled to appoint whomever they wish, but the message is still clear that they haven’t recognised a) the folly of their terror campaign and b) the folly of assuming those who waged that campaign are therefore fit to run the country. Most of all, parties making such appointments lose the right to lecture on subjects such as reconciliation.

      • Derek says:

        Ian, your mindset is erroneous. To decent well educated, comfortable people it may sound laudable. Unfortunately this is post conflict, or so we hope, Northern Ireland. There are those who support the two main parties who see the past as a justifiable ‘war’. In all probability it would be more true of those on the Republican side where it would have been considered an attack for a Republican objective, and on the other side a defence of their perception of loyalism. In other words a just war. This may seem to you and I, and many others who come from that sector of society which is by and large inactive, when it comes to politics, as unreal. However to those who came from a certain backgrounds, it was very real. The Republican side through their struggle won a slice of power in an enforced coalition without opposition. The majority of the people in this island, for better, or for worse, agreed to this. A fair proportion of SF Ministers and elected representatives have active backgrounds. Are they all to resign to save the feelings of those who have suffered because of their actions? These cases have been highlighted because of the dismay of a well educated sister, and daughter of the victims. A person for whom you and I would have an emotional affinity. There will be other families equally hurt.

        In practical terms the lady at the centre of the controversy was a 19 year old accessary to the murder in that she was the getaway driver. She pobably now regrets her then enthusiasm for the cause, which ended up with a lengthy spell in prison. Many young people, at that time who found themselves involved came from enclosed ghetto communities. They followed their heroes, who would not have been your or my heroes. She has doubtless been sustained by the comradeship of those who shared her unfortunate enthusiasm. That comradeship, and loyalty to eachother continues within SF. They cannot be expected to consider the position from your perspective.

        You or I would feel a certain amount of shame if we were convicted of an offence and imprisoned. We might seek to rehabilitate ourselves. To those who consider that they have done nothing dishonourable, albeit that they may consider it to have been an unfortunate consequence of war, the justice system was irrelevant. It may make you and I sick but we are bound by the Belfast Agreement, and it is the price of peace, which is a first step to healing this community.

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