“She (Ann Travers) has done right and done well by her late sister and father, and we all owe her a great debt of gratitude”
(Jim Allister QC, MLA)
It is a remarkable achievement that a victim of terrorism has succeeded in reforming the law of Northern Ireland which applies to Special Advisers to Ministers in the Stormont Executive.
The story started with the appointment of Ms Mary McArdle as a Special Adviser to Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin. In 1984 Ms McArdle took part in a terrorist attack which targeted Judge Travers but resulted in the killing of his eldest daughter Mary, Ann’s sister. Ms McArdle was later convicted for her involvement in the murder.
Following Ms McArdle’s appointment as Special Adviser, Ann Travers publicly expressed her indignation and called for her removal. Jim Allister then introduced a Private Member’s Bill that was eventually approved by the Assembly on 3rd June 2013.
This legislation is like a refreshing breeze on a hot day for those who long for morality and decency in the halls of power, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Under the new legislation, a person who has a serious criminal conviction cannot be eligible for appointment as a Special Adviser. A serious criminal conviction is defined in the Act as an offence for which a sentence of immediate imprisonment of 5 years or more or of imprisonment for life has been imposed. This definition applies to terrorist offences as well as any other offence for which such a sentence would have been applied, regardless of whether the person was convicted in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, before or after the coming in operation of the Bill.
A person who has a serious conviction may refer his/her appointment to the Department of Finance and Personnel. The Department will then establish a review panel that will make a decision on the eligibility of that person. The panel should be satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances that justify the appointment being made, with regard to the following matters:
- Whether the person has shown contrition for the offence to which the serious criminal conviction relates;
- Whether the person has taken all reasonable steps to assist in the investigation and prosecution of all other persons connected with the commission of the offence;
- The views of the victim(s) of the offence;
- The views of close family members of a victim who is deceased.
Any person who is not satisfied with the determination of the review panel may lodge an appeal before the High Court on the grounds that it was not reasonable to make such a determination.
This legislation has a sound Christian foundation as it makes reference to the necessity for the person who has committed a serious offence to show contrition for the wrong he/she has done. It also requires that person to show that he/she has indeed changed his/her mind, providing help to the law enforcement authorities in the identification and prosecution of all other persons responsible for the offence. In so doing, the legislation opens the way for victims to forgive those who have offended them and encourages peace and reconciliation.