Northern Ireland

SDLP 'will not block SPADs bill'

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Media captionThe SDLP confirmed their position at a news conference at Stormont

The SDLP will not block a new law aimed at preventing some ex-prisoners holding posts as Stormont special advisers (SPADs), the party has confirmed.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell made the announcement at a news conference on Tuesday, when he confirmed they would not support a petition of concern.

It follows a plea by Ann Travers, the sister of an IRA murder victim.

The bill was introduced after Sinn Fein appointed Mary McArdle, who was convicted over the murder, as a SPAD.

Last week, the SDLP's Dominic Bradley told the BBC his party was considering supporting a petition of concern to stop the bill from becoming law, because SDLP amendments had not been accepted.

The petition would have forced a cross-community vote and effectively blocked the bill.

Ms Travers met the SDLP leadership to ask them to reconsider and the party's former deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, also warned against the move.

At the press conference on Tuesday, Mr McDonnell said: "We will not be supporting a petition of concern.

"While we are deeply concerned about the flaws in the bill and our amendments have not been accepted, nevertheless we feel the victims' issue takes priority.

"We have had lengthy discussions with a number of victims' groups and other parties. We believe that, going forward, there is a need for a much greater focus on victims' issues.

"We will be taking the opportunity to ensure victims no longer remain in the shadows."

'Human courage'

The law was proposed by TUV leader, Jim Allister, after Ms McArdle was appointed as an advisor to Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin two years ago.

Mr Allister praised Ann Travers after the SDLP announcement.

"It is a remarkable testimony to what human courage can do and achieve," he said.

"My ambition for this law is that it might be referred to as Ann's Law."

Mary Travers was shot dead by the IRA in Belfast in 1984.

The Catholic schoolteacher was targeted as she walked out of Sunday Mass with her father, resident magistrate Tom Travers.

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

Ann Travers said she "was happy" the SDLP would not block the bill.

Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay said the SDLP decision "undermines the ethos of the Good Friday Agreement".

"This legislation is against the core principles which underpin the Good Friday Agreement which at its heart is the ethos of inclusivity and equality," he said.

He added that the bill may be in contravention of European Convention of Human Rights and "if passed will no doubt result in further legal challenge".

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