A prominent victims’ campaigner has questioned if Sinn Fein could ever be trusted to deal fairly with legacy issues, given their “unbelievable disregard for the law”.
Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead by IRA terrorists in 1984, was speaking after the RHI Inquiry heard how the republican party implemented a system of ‘super Spads’ to deliberately flout a law banning people with serious criminal convictions from being special advisors to Stormont ministers.
She also voiced serious concerns over revelations about a Sinn Fein minister reporting to unelected figures within the republican movement, claiming: “The IRA hasn’t gone away. They are up at Stormont making the decisions.”
Ms Travers, who along with TUV leader Jim Allister championed the introduction of the Civil Service Special Advisers (Spad) Bill in 2013, was reacting to statements made during Tuesday’s inquiry hearing by former Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir, during which he confirmed that Sinn Fein had effectively ignored the law on employing Spads.
Although the legislation was introduced five years ago, Mr O Muilleoir told the inquiry that Sinn Fein put in place a structure to allow one-time senior IRA member Aidan McAteer – then Spad to Martin McGuinness – to continue in his role, because they disagreed with the law.
The Civil Service Spad Bill, which became known as Ann’s Law, was designed to prevent ex-prisoners who were jailed for five years or more from becoming highly paid political advisers. It was brought forward after former IRA prisoner Mary McArdle – who was involved in the slaying of Mary Travers – was appointed as adviser to Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin in 2011.
Reacting to Mr O Muilleoir’s comments, Ms Travers pointed out that while Sinn Fein may be employing advisers with serious criminal records, they are being paid out of party funds rather than the public purse.
But condemning their circumnavigation of the law, she said: “I think it is quite abhorrent that they ignore and still don’t get the hurt that was caused that actually caused this Bill to come into being. They haven’t learnt anything from it.”
Branding Sinn Fein’s actions as “anti-peace process”, she continued: “It shows that whenever the law suits Sinn Fein they will use it, but if they don’t like it then they ignore it.
“We just had a consultation about dealing with the past and legacy issues, and here he (Mairtin O Muilleoir) is sitting saying Sinn Fein just didn’t agree with a piece of legislation that was brought forward with a victim and with plenty of victims supporting it. All that was being asked of Sinn Fein was to acknowledge the families’ hurt and help them, yet they couldn’t even do that.”
With the RHI Inquiry having uncovered details about how Mr O Muilleoir reported to a series of unelected republican figures – one of whom, Padraic Wilson is reportedly one of the most senior members of the IRA – Ms Travers questioned if Sinn Fein is just “a face” for “shady characters lurking in the shadows.”
“It just seems they are just there as a face and they just do what they are told to do and say. People need to be aware that whenever they are voting for their local Sinn Fein candidate, actually in reality are they really able to do anything? Is it really them that you’re voting for or are you voting for these shady characters in the background, still lurking in the shadows, still telling them (Sinn Fein) what they can and can’t do, what laws they should follow, which ones they should ignore? I just find it completely depressing.
“We have just had the anniversary of the Shankill bomb. We are having other anniversaries this week of other people who were murdered in retaliation, including Greysteel, so you would think at this stage we should be able to trust our politicians, but actually it looks, certainly for this particular political party (Sinn Fein), that we can’t trust them at all because we don’t know who we are talking to.”
Stressing that trust and trusting people are major issues for victims and survivors, she continued: “Here we are in 2018, 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement. I would have thought by this stage in politics and as a society we should be maturing and working towards a true reconciliation where we actually know that when we sit and talk to somebody that the person we are dealing with is the person who is in front of us and not this unelected person in the background.
“Any victims I have spoken with during the whole legacy consultation were all very dubious about how it would really and truly deal with the past in a fair way and it is quite obvious that it won’t. If Sinn Fein can’t even respect a law that was made five years ago how on earth are we to trust them with the legacy issue?”
Mr Allister was unavailable for comment, but a TUV spokesperson said Sinn Fein’s actions had “come as no surprise”.
Accusing others at Stormont of facilitating Sinn Fein’s attempts to get round the law, the spokesman said: “It is clear that the law on special advisers was flouted left, right and centre.
“All of this does nothing to increase confidence in politics. And it begs the question, does Northern Ireland really want to go back to such a fundamentally flawed system of government?”