Why it was right to endorse the SpAds Bill

The SDLP was on the verge of blocking the “SpAds Bill” because it was awful legislation. It was.

The Green Party opposed it because it didn’t do all the things it would have wanted concerning Special Adviser appointments. It doesn’t do all the things I would want either.

Sinn Fein opposed it because it randomly raised the issue of Special Advisers with convictions now, when others had previously served. This is also true.

What was missed in all of that (except the latter, probably) is that Northern Ireland is a post-conflict society and its legislature is a post-conflict legislature. It is not enough to judge a piece of legislation (or even, say, a motion on symbols) purely rationally. There is an emotional side – borne of centuries of bitter conflict and decades of killing and maiming – which cannot simply be discounted without consideration. There is in fact a nasty side to some “Progressives” in Northern Ireland, who believe we should simply draw a line and move on, as if essentially victims are holding us all back and should not be allowed to do so. This is totally wrong. If we are not diligent of the suffering of victims and survivors (in particular) and how their emotions play out even now, then that centuries-old bitterness and sense of injustice will merely fester and, in time, surely result in further violence – common sense, and a cursory glance at the history of Ulster, tells us that much.

That is why it was right to endorse the SpAds Bill. When Ann Travers saw someone directly implicated and convicted of the killing of her entirely innocent sister appointed to a highly paid, potentially powerful government office paid for by the taxpayer – with neither election nor competition – she felt a burning sense of injustice. How could she not?

Ann made it clear that she did not find the appointment acceptable, at which time a simple response from Sinn Fein accepting that the appointment was insensitive and providing assurances that if victims raised such problems in future appropriate action would be taken (implicitly including removal of murderers as Special Advisers where requested) would have sufficed. Through its failure to do that, Sinn Fein demonstrated that it was not interested in “equality” at all; rather, it was giving primacy to the interests of former IRA activists over those of the rest of society (“Republican” or otherwise), and most notably over those of their innocent victims.

That failure has to be addressed on an ongoing basis, not just through this one piece of (actually pretty clumsy) legislation. Murderers were indeed let out of prison under the 1998 Agreement, and people can probably live with that – but to be clear, they have not been justified, they have not been excused, and most of all by the victims and survivors they have not been forgotten.

The SpAds Bill is but a staging post to establishing a more important and fundamental point: for as long as Ann Travers has to live with the consequences of Mary McArdle’s actions, frankly, so will Mary McArdle.


5 thoughts on “Why it was right to endorse the SpAds Bill

  1. Macca says:

    Hello Ian,
    I’m not quite sure if you are for or against the SPad Bill.
    You say it’s ‘awful legislation’ and it ‘didn’t do all the things you, or The Green Party wanted’ and from a Sinn Fein perspective it wasn’t ‘balanced’ which you find true.
    You then go on to say how right it was to endorse the Bill. So you can see my confusion.

    All Bills, from whatever period of history, when ‘cherry picked’ could be the subject of bad legislation… banking and taxation to name but two that are a current hot topics and then my favourite MP’s expenses.

    If NI is a post conflict society, why does the historical side evoke so much argument, debate, passion anger etc.. etc… etc…?


    • I say clearly, both in the headline and in the text, that it was right to endorse the Bill. I’m not sure I can be any clearer!

      • Macca says:

        Hello Ian….
        I quoted you…. ‘Awful legislation’… ‘didn’t do all the things….’ and ‘not balanced’.
        perhaps my quoting you wasn’t clear!

  2. harryaswell says:

    The problem is easily traced right back to the GFA. Who “are” the victims? The innocent victims?? WE are ALL of us innocent victims realistically. The problem that makes us innocent victims is the Republican Movement in the shape of Sinn Fein. How is that? It is because it was they who decided to scrap democracy! They it was who decided to use civil disobedience backed up by AK47’s and Semtex! They who slaughtered all who got in their way. These were illegal acts. As such it puts Republicanism, and Sinn Fein, beyond the Pale. It is not for nothing that Sinn Fein were referred to as Sinn Fein/IRA! That is their entitlement. The IRA has not gone away you know! Memorable words. The Spad Bill is very important to ensure that terror and murder is NOT rewarded by high paid jobs. Bad enough that we find ourselves bounced into being ruled by unreconstructed terrorists and murderers without being also bounced into allowing these people to call themselves victims and being rewarded as such! Republicans have not eaten enough humble pie to be forgiven by the rest of us for the appalling crimes that they committed and for their arrogant attempts to re-write history to suit themselves.

  3. Big Al gets directly to the nub (http://goo.gl/H38px)…

    “Victims have been for fifteen years promised truth, promised solutions, promised reconciliation, promised hope and are not getting closure.”

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