Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Monday, 19 November 2012

Complaints against Jim Wells

MLAs voted to reject a motion calling for the suspension of DUP MLA Jim Wells from the Assembly for seven days, on 19 November 2012.

The motion arose from two separate incidents in June 2011 when Mr Wells encountered Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, and her then adviser, Mary McArdle in the corridors of Parliament Buildings.

Ms McArdle was convicted for her part in the murder of a young school teacher in 1984.

Mary Travers, 22, was shot as she left mass in south Belfast, with her father, magistrate Tom Travers. Ms McArdle was sentenced to a life term and was released under the Good Friday Agreement.

The exclusion motion was proposed by the deputy chairman of the Committee of Standards and Privileges, Kieran McCarthy of Alliance.

Mr McCarthy explained how Ms Ni Chuilin had complained that Mr Wells had confronted her in "an aggressive and threatening manner".

According to Ms Ni Chuilin, Mr Wells had also said: "You needn't think you are going to take that murderer to South Down".

Ms McArdle complained that Mr Wells had passed her on the first floor of the building and had commented: "There's the murderer herself".

Mr McCarthy said there was no dispute as to the general tenor of the encounters.

Mr Wells's version of events was that he had said to the minister: "You had better not bring her to South Down".

He had said he had no recollection of pointing his finger, he had used the term "monster adviser", had mumbled something to Ms McArdle and said:

"You murdered Mary Travers coming out of her Catholic place of worship."

Mr McCarthy said the interim Commissioner for Standards, Tom Frawley, found that "Mr Wells had breached the code of conduct".

He said it was disappointing that Mr Wells did not apologise.

Alastair Ross of the DUP said that, although he was chairman of the Committee of Standards and Privileges, he would not be peaking for the committee as he was opposed to the motion and would be voting against it.

He said his reason was that the proposed sanction of seven days' suspension, was "not a proportionate response".

"It is not a punishment that in any way meets the crime," he added.

Cathal Boylan of Sinn Fein said the majority of members of the committee had voted in favour of bringing the motion to the house.

He said the whole building was an office, and the interim commissioner had found Mr Wells to be in breach of the code of conduct.

The UUP leader, Mike Nesbitt, said Sinn Fein were "cynically exploiting" the Travers family through the complaints.

Colum Eastwood of the SDLP said he believed the committee had "offered Mr Wells a way out" by inviting him to make an apology.

"It is incumbent on everyone in this house to treat each other with respect," he said.

The DUP's Gregory Campbell said that when he read the interim commissioner's report he had experienced "shades of Basil Fawlty".

Francie Molloy of Sinn Fein criticised the use of a petition of concern, meaning the motion would be subject to cross-community support.

"We have an attempt today to have one party rule," he said.

Jim Wells said Caral Ni Chuilin was not in the house

"She's scared to stand up and defend herself," he said.

Mr Wells said Ms McArdle and Ms Ni Chuilin had shared a cell in prison

He said Ms McArdle was effectively the minister's "boss" in prison.

On the question of respect the DUP MLA asked:

"What respect did McArdle show to Mary Travers and her family?"

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew wound for the motion.

He said the important question was not whether the code of conduct had been broken, but whether the sanction was appropriate.

The motion was defeated on a cross-community vote.


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