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.