Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Wednesday, 19 September 2012 13:07 UK

Finance Committee

People with a serious criminal conviction will no longer be eligible to be appointed as special advisers to Stormont ministers if a new bill successfully passes through the assembly, the finance committee heard on 19 September 2012.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he had brought forward the Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill due to the "insensitive appointment" of Mary McCardle as special adviser to Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

Ms McArdle's appointment stirred controversy in 2011 when it was revealed she had been convicted for her part in the IRA murder of Mary Travers in 1984.

Miss Travers, 22, was shot in the back after leaving church with her father, the magistrate Tom Travers.

Sinn Fein later moved Ms McCardle from the position and said this was part of its normal party policy to rotate staff. She was replaced by former journalist Jarlath Kearney.

Mr Allister said the bill would mean those who had a record of a prison sentence of five years or more would no longer be able to apply for such a role.

He said a special adviser was a "special person" who had status as senior civil servant, had access to all governmental papers and who advised at the highest levels.

He explained that he wanted the code governing the appointment and conduct of special advisers to be put on a statutory basis and this would include vetting, which he said applied to all other civil servants.

"They (special advisers) already have that special concession of not being appointed on merit unlike every other senior civil servant and that's a big enough concession," he said.

Mr Allister said that although the finance minister had claimed he had amended the code of conduct for appointments to introduce vetting, he believed that not all parties had implemented or accepted the changes.

He said putting the code on a statutory basis would end the "limbo" which currently exists and would mean it could not "be changed by a minister on a whim".

The TUV leader said there had been 818 responses to a six-week public consultation on his bill and said the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) was the only organisation to raise any significant opposition.

Vice chairman of the committee Dominic Bradley said the bill would not allow for usual mitigating factors to be taken into consideration.

"This goes beyond the current civil service vetting procedures by automatically placing a bar on anyone who has been appointed, or is to be appointed, as a result of a serious conviction who has received a five-year sentence," he said.

He questioned finance department official Derek Baker on the need for the bill if the minister had already implemented changes.

"If there is a lack of clarity around that, then members may feel there is a need for Mr Allister's bill," he said.

"However, if the power is vested in the minister, there is no need for Mr Allister's bill."

Mr Baker said Finance Minister Sammy Wilson had the power to make changes to special advisor appointments.

He added that he was aware of some new appointments which had not completed the minister's new arrangements.


Finance committee membership




  • David Hilditch

  • William Humphrey

  • Roy Beggs

  • Mitchel McLaughlin

  • Adrian McQuillan

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