Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Wednesday, 26 September 2012 15:41 UK

Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill: Second stage

TUV leader Jim Allister described concerns that his proposed bill on special advisers could possibly infringe the European Convention on Human Rights as "strange", on 25 September 2012.

Mr Allister's was speaking on the second stage of his private member's bill.

It aims to ban those convicted of an offence carrying a sentence of five years or more from holding the post of special adviser to a Stormont minister.

The Attorney General, John Larkin, told the Stormont finance committee on 19 September 2012 that the retrospective nature of the bill might fall foul of the Convention.

He added that article seven prohibited the increase of punishments available at the time an offence was committed, and questioned whether a disqualification might constitute such an increase.

Speaking at the bill's second reading, Mr Allister said he "utterly disagreed with this suggestion".

He added that the fact that the bill had reached its second stage meant it had been "decreed competent".

Mr Allister said he had brought forward the bill following "the audacious and calculated appointment of Mary McArdle by the Culture Minister as her special adviser and the hurt that that caused".

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.

The 22-year-old was shot dead by an IRA gang as she left Mass with her father, the magistrate Tom Travers.

Ms McArdle was sentenced to a life term for the murder and was released under the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Allister said his bill contained four issues: it would define who could and could not be appointed; it would create an element of accountability by laying an annual report before assembly; it would put the code of conduct on a statutory basis; and it would remove the Speaker's capacity to appoint a special adviser.

Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay, who also chairs the Finance Committee, said there were "serious questions in relation to the competence of the bill and this is one of the many reasons we will not be supporting the bill".

Judith Cochrane of Alliance also said her party would not be supporting the bill's second stage.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness said although his party did not give "unqualified support" for the bill as it currently stood, they were willing to address these concerns at later stages of the bill's passage through the assembly.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said he felt the grounds for the bill were "political" and he would not be supporting it.

Referring to the appointment of Ms McArdle, Roy Beggs of the UUP said he hoped the bill would be brought into legislation as he did "not want to have another victim to suffer in the same way".

Sammy Wilson of the DUP said he felt regulating special advisers was necessary.

He added that two Sinn Fein advisers had not complied with fresh security clearance regulations brought forward and therefore they were not being paid from the public purse.

The second stage was passed by 62 votes to 32.


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