#SpAdBill: Positive discrimination favouring the victim over the perpetrator

Ian Paisley last week opened his position on gay marriage on BBC Question Time by saying some would argue he was on the wrong side of history. In yesterday’s BelTel Maire Braniff and Cillian McGrattan made an important argument in favour of the SpAd Bill:

The practice of lustration (the exclusion from public office of those associated with former abuses) has been widespread across many divided, post-conflict and post-authoritarian countries.

The bill tackles the issue of political patronage and states that it is not ethical, or right, for politicians to appoint people who have served serious criminal offences (five years or more) to publicly funded posts (advisers’ wages can be as high as £90,000).

Political advisers are neither elected, nor publicly accountable; their closeness to agenda-setting and legislation remains largely out of sight.

Although it directly affects only a handful of individuals, the bill represents a very real attempt to define a vision of peace and a vision of the future.

In effect, it represents a piece of positive discrimination: it states that victims’ rights and needs should take precedence over those of their perpetrators.

This case demonstrates the potential for politicians and legislators to re-traumatise victims. If trauma involves an element of betrayal – a rupturing of safety and expectations – then the bill will work to protect society from future betrayals.[emphasis]

The debate on how we deal with the past has had a strange etherial feel to it, with the emphasis upon former combatants to set the agenda. But the use of a properly constituted law provided through the Legislative Assembly could be critical in a number of ways:

The immediacy of the bill is clear, but the legacy of these developments and decisions for the values and ethics we imprint on society and impart to our future generations are important.

The bill is a test, therefore, of Northern Irish governance, Northern Irish democracy and the kind of values that we, in Northern Ireland, are seen to cherish.

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  • “their closeness to agenda-setting and legislation remains largely out of sight”

    What’s to stop investigative journalists and Stormont committees shedding light on this and other areas of governance?

    “victims’ rights and needs should take precedence over those of their perpetrators”

    Ann Travers has spoken out bravely; other victims might fear a knock on the door or worse should they raise their heads above the parapet. Newspaper editors will IMO pull a story when victim’s are threatened of the consequences should misdeeds be reported.

  • Morpheus

    Am I correct in saying that this is a retrospective legislation?

  • Morpheus, perhaps this is the section of the Bill that you have in mind:

    (4) Where on the date of coming into operation of this subsection a person –

    (a) holds an appointment as a special adviser, and

    (b) has before that date incurred a serious criminal conviction,

    that person’s appointment terminates immediately by virtue of this Act.

    (5) But a person to whom subsection (4) will apply may refer the appointment to the Department, within 21 days of this subsection coming into operation.

    (6) A Minister must inform the Department in writing whether any special adviser appointed by the Minister has a serious criminal conviction.

    Ironically, the Minister might not be able to act as a Special Adviser.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s the provision that was tested by the AG against the ECHR… and found to be sound… was it not?

  • Morpheus

    So that’s a yes. Would you be able to tell me the last time a retrospective piece of legislation was used in the UK?

    (Note: I agree with the idea behind the legislation but I also think that it’s one of those pieces of housekeeping which should have been in place long, long ago to avoid us getting into this mess in the first place. Applying it retrospectively – well that’s a different issue)

  • Mick Fealty

    I suspect that’s the hook that the SDLP caught themselves on.

  • Morpheus

    The SDLP leader 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.

    Were the SDLPs proposed changes to the appeal mechanism and their concerns for the retrospective nature of the bill not worth fighting for? Why allow a piece of legislation they feel is flawed to go through unopposed by them? Why not fight their corner, see if they can get the changes made that they feel are right then vote ‘Yes’ on a piece legislation believe in?

    To me, they allowed emotion got the better of them and are now taking the coward’s way out by abstaining on something they feel is flawed.

  • Barnshee

    Repeats –remove SPADS from the public purse let the parties fund them and WGAF who is a SPAD

  • Cric

    Nationalism is quite right in asking itself questions about its past, and not being united over the answers of whether certain actions were right or wrong, or even understandable in a certain context. A split within Nationalism is a welcome development in our Democracy. I can’t help but feel that Unionism (certainly that which is espoused by Mr Allister) is still convinced that it was completely in the right and does even bother to question itself over the legitimacy of any of its actions in the past.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think civic nationalism is exactly there Cric, and that is as you say, a very good thing. We still await any clear sign that political nationalism in NI has caught up yet.

  • Cric

    Civic nationalism has been there for a while – my wife, a fluent German speaker, was baptised Catholic and has a grandmother from Ardoyne, and spent most of her formative years living in British Army bases on the continent. A lot of people soon make peace with the establishment because the establishment may pay you to make peace with it. This is not to say that these people are right or wrong, it is just my own hypothesis on why one side seems a little more ideologically flexible than the other – Irish Republicanism has absolutely nothing to offer to the free thinking Unionist individual.

  • Morpheus

    “Irish Republicanism has absolutely nothing to offer to the free thinking Unionist individual.”

    You have come to a sweeping conclusion there without any facts Cric. You have no idea what a new Republic could offer Unionist individuals and you have no idea what a new Republic could look like in terms of housing, jobs, economics, political representation, health, law or even wheelie bin collection. None of us do. That includes SF which to me makes the recent Catelonian-style border poll meaningless. They are expecting the electorate to follow them and jump into the darkness without knowing what’s there when they land and I don’t think the electorate are that naive.

    It was mentioned in another thread that SF might be happy with this SPAD scenario, in my opinion they will be over the moon. So far they have lost just 1 job but they have the political ammunition to go to the hardliners and say that they tried – they voted against the bill and it was the SDLP who encouraged discrimination against prisoners. PLUS they can go to the moderates and say that the SDLP allowed a bill they believed to be flawed to pass rather than fighting for what they believed. All SF need is 1 more MLA to reach the number required to raise a petition of concern; I think the SDLP have given at least that on a silver platter.

    Sinn Féin has effectively become the voice for mainstream nationalism until a suitable alternative comes to the fore. I’m sad to say that the SDLP with it’s current leadership is not that alternative.