Mr Allister outlined in the chamber why he had introduced the bill, saying that the catalyst for it had been Anne Travers, the sister of Mary Travers, who was murdered by former Sinn Fein special adviser (Spad) Mary McArdle.
Mr Allister paid tribute to Ms Travers’ father, Tom, the magistrate injured in the IRA attack which killed his daughter and said that as a QC he had known him from the courts.
The TUV leader praised the late magistrate as someone who was always fair and courageous, saying that Ms Travers had reflected her father’s courage. The SDLP’s Alban Maginness, another barrister who knew Judge Travers, asked Mr Allister whether he believed that the murderous attack on him was an attempt by the IRA to intimidate Catholics out of the judiciary.
He said that he suspected that Sinn Fein had appointed Ms McArdle “out of political arrogance and sheer indifference to the plight of a suffering victim’s family”.
He added: “In the rewriting of the IRA narrative of the Troubles, Mary McArdle was a warrior – not a murderer; a member of an ex-prisoner elite who could be appointed to sensitive political positions irrespective of the feelings of their victims.”
Mr Maginness said that although he strongly disagreed with Mr Allister’s politics “we consider this bill on its merits, not on its parentage”. He said his party would vote for it to proceed.
Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay claimed that the bill “singles out former political prisoners … the bill is against the ethos of the Good Friday Agreement”.
However, the DUP’s Gregory Campbell said that it would be more accurate to say that it “singles out former convicts”, whatever crime they committed.
The UUP’s Roy Beggs, who said that his party would support the bill, asked Sinn Fein how it would feel if a party was to appoint a loyalist murderer such as Johnny Adair as a special adviser.
When Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane said that her party would not be supporting the bill – arguing that “we must be careful as legislators about making law based on an individual case” but suggesting the party may have backed the bill if it came from a department – Mr Allister said: “Shame.”
DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson revealed that two Sinn Fein ministerial advisers – appointed since he introduced security vetting for advisers last year – are not being paid from public funds because they refuse to undergo the vetting. Speaking strongly in favour of Mr Allister’s bill, Mr Wilson dismissed claims by Sinn Fein that it was “discriminatory” and tore into the Alliance Party for opposing the bill, describing its position as “rather strange” as the party supports current security vetting for advisers.
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