Northern Ireland

Ann Travers 'more hopeful' after meeting SDLP leadership

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Media captionEnvironment Minister Alex Atwood reacted angrily when asked by the BBC how the meeting had gone

An IRA victim's sister has said she is "more hopeful" the SDLP will not block a bill that would prevent former prisoners guilty of serious offences becoming Stormont special advisers.

Ann Travers was speaking after a meeting with the party's leadership.

The SDLP refused to comment.

The Environment Minister Alex Atwood reacted angrily when asked by the BBC how the meeting had gone, pushing a camera and complaining that he felt he was being "bounced".

Earlier this week, Ms Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA almost 30 years ago, accused the SDLP of "putting two fingers up to victims".

An SDLP MLA had indicated his party would seek to block the special advisers bill after failing to amend several aspects of it, but Ms Travers said she now believes they might change their minds.

The party could use a petition of concern to stop the bill from becoming law.

The petition requires 30 or more signatures and triggers a cross-community vote in the assembly.

Image caption Ann Travers said she felt 'punched in the stomach' by the SDLP

Ms Travers said she did not know if the SDLP was representing victims or victim-makers.

The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) brought forward the bill after ex-prisoner Mary McArdle was appointed as an adviser to a Sinn Fein minister.

McArdle was convicted of the murder of Mary Travers, who was shot as she left Mass with her father in Belfast in 1984.

The bill seeks to ban anyone who has been sentenced to more than five years in prison from taking up a post in the future.

Sinn Fein, which has 29 MLAs, is opposed to the bill and if the party joined forces with the SDLP's 14 MLAs, both parties would be able to secure a petition of concern.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General John Larkin has allayed fears he raised last year that the Special Advisers Bill breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

He has written to TUV leader Jim Allister saying that as a result of amendments, and in particular the existence of an appeal mechanism, he believes the bill in its present form was within the "legislative competence" of the assembly.

He added: "You will appreciate that my views on competency are not to be construed as a statement on whether or not the bill is, in policy terms, a good idea or not. This is, of course, the central issue which is properly a matter for the assembly,"

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