SpAd debate: Winners, losers and the SDLP’s tough call on the matter of victims

First and foremost was the great (by Stormont standards) opening filibuster from former Slugger Award winner Daithi McKay. He demonstrates the value of investing young parliamentary talent. A classic Boycott opener which gave his party a respectable base from which to bat.

This was one of the few free ranging debates in the Assembly in six whole years of sittings. When bills travel through the House at any stage, there is no limit on contributions from Members. It was spattered with interesting asides and insights.

This was the Assembly’s very first piece of major legislation is a private members bill from a single MLA from a single member party is both testament to Jim Allister’s considerable legislative and political skills, and the sheer lack of productivity of the Executive.

Winners and losers? Well, just one winner, and it was clearly Jim Allister. Turgon asked on Slugger some time ago what would a positive political achievement look like for the TUV if it was not to go the same Dodo’s way as all previous anti Agreement projects.

This was hardly indicative of a coherent new liberal right programme, but it was nevertheless a tangible and humanising victory over which he can honestly point out to his voters was achieved with little or no help from his former colleagues in the DUP.

The loser was, however else it is finessed, Sinn Fein. The ex prisoner regime inside the party is strong and it goes right to the most senior levels of the party. They remain the hidden hand of authority which the dFM pays tribute to above. This will go hard with what’s casually referred to as ‘the Leadership’.

Most others broke even. I’d agree with the BBC’s Gareth Gordon that the SDLP took the bloodiest nose. But in the longer term, they have managed to push their way to a much better position than they had before. The question now is, can they exploit it?

For all the numbers on the SF benches, they only have a few class players. Mitchel McLaughlin for instance did most of the effective skirmishing for the party.

By contrast, at times, the SDLP looked like an unfit, overaged fifteen that hasn’t played a competitive match in years. But Alban Maginness got close to embarrassing the SF front bench with this short period of forced play
before the Speaker reigned him back in…

Luckily for SF the shot of the party’s front bench smiling at Mr Maginness’s mention of Jean McConville has missed most cuts of the highlights so far. Belfast ain’t Dublin, and Stormont ain’t Leinster House. [Added later]

We still have fifteen SpAds as we had before. Six of them (including Mr Kavanagh) work in an office that has no direct executive responsibilities, which are, understandably enough, are carried out by the Executive Ministries.

That’s more than half a million pounds in salaries for what is still, in fact, mostly a Yes Minister style Department of Administrative Affairs.

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  • tacapall

    Winners and losers Mick, are you talking party ways or people ways ?

  • Mick Fealty

    ??

  • son of sam

    An interesting ,insightful blog especially the insert of Alban Mc Guinness ‘s contribution which conveniently for the Shinners has not received the media exposure it deserved.No doubt the organised social media chorus from S F will continue to harrass the S D L P at every opportunity.The best method of defence is attack!

  • tacapall

    Some parties will be winners and some victims will be losers, I think this bill will be a hard sell for the SDLP on nationalist doorsteps, you know where the victims that are the losers come from, win win for Sinn Fein come election time.

  • Mick Fealty

    Tac,

    Indeed. I ‘was’ trying to focus on realpolik, rather than questions of morals.

    Politically it was a tough call for the SDLP, as I noted above. But this intervention from Alban was also very instructive in terms how victims were being mistreated by political parties heretofore: http://goo.gl/yPuXX:

    during the course of the Irish presidential election there was an intervention by Ann Travers in relation to Martin McGuinness’s candidature. That was via a radio programme on RTÉ, in which she confronted Mr McGuinness and said that he had failed to apologise adequately in relation to the death of her sister and had not condemned the attack on her father, who was a judge.

    She confronted him about that particular issue. So he was well warned, several months in advance of the appointment, that such an appointment would be grossly insensitive and create the reaction that it ultimately created.

    I’d like to see this question of ‘the non hierarchy of victims’ picked up and run with.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    tacapall

    “Some parties will be winners and some victims will be losers…”

    No, some parties will be winners and some victims will not win as much as others.

    To say that some victims ‘lose’ is utterly swallowing the party line.

    SF will perhaps make good capital from this as some people will be gullible enough to buy into their equally cynical capitalisation of victims’ suffering.

    The perks of having a good and evidently unquestionable propaganda machine I suppose…

  • tacapall

    I usually dont even bother listening to McGuinness but I’d say his analogy of the SDLP being swung by the tail by the TUV to be spot on, its ludicrous to have a law that bars some people from jobs based on time spent in prison rather than the actual crime they committed or like I said on the other thread a law that says some murderers need not apply, its daft and its a sort of strange where the five year limit came from, what bright spark thought that one up.

    Allister is playing to his own gallery, his neighbours around the malone area, there’s not too many there that had their children murdered by plastic bullets or murdered by trigger happy British soldiers his non hierarchy of victims rhetoric will probably do him no harm but elsewhere is another matter. I’m sure he knows what a victim is after having a cannabis factory found in one of his, no doubt many houses he rents out like the rest of those carpetbaggers up on the hill, imagine god forbid you got shot for renting houses out to criminals.

    Someday.

    “Retribution may be slow in coming, but justice will eventually triumph; sooner or later everyone will get what they deserve”

  • Mick Fealty

    SF always talk a good game, but in the north at least they are rarely checked against delivery. I think they will talk this up, but ex prisoners – given the narrow terms of this bill – is not by definition a popular issue. Ending the taunting of victims (after you’ve won) is.

    Tac,

    You see nothing culpable in Alban’s passage?

  • tacapall

    Am Ghobsmacht, Were you born here ? Swallowing what party line ? Capitalising on victims sufferings is not just a Sinn Fein game, if you lived here you would know that but you just walt away there and make assumptions about me and who I support. Deal with facts – The JA bill is a law that says some murderers need not apply. Explain to me how that makes sense ?

    Mick, Allister McDonnell can talk the talk like the best of them, I do agree however with him and everyone else that Mary McArdles appointment as a Spad was insensitive and totally wrong but the SDLP underestimating Sinn Feins ability to plot ahead is not going to get them much further, deliberate acts of insensitivity, throwing party faithful to the wolves in order to move the party forward, Sinn Fein has been doing that for years and always gains at the expense of the SDLP.

  • pauluk

    Definitely a clear ‘win’ for Jim, but also a restoration, at least in my mind, of the SDLP’s dignity.

    I suppose the biggest ‘loser’ is Steven Agnew. He said: Our position is consistent with Green Party principles, particularly the principle of supporting rehabilitation for ex-offenders.

    No one is against rehabilitation, but, surely, a first step towards rehabilitation would be a recognition of a wrong-doing – something which SF have never, and never will acknowledge.

  • Paulk

    Part of me wonders if this will work out better for SF than some think?

    In the short term it gives them a chip on the shoulder and SF loves a good chip on the shoulder. It’ll serve to motivate and rally the faithful to really attack the SDLP who they haven’t really bothered with in a while. Have the SDLP got the talent and wherewithal to fight off a SF machine fully focused on taking a bite out of them?

    Secondly the past has been getting in the way of SF making gains certainly in the ROI less so in NI, but could this have the effect of SF having to push ex prisioners to behind the scenes roles using this type of legisation as an excuse to put shiny new untainted talent to the front of the shop and thus begin the process of “decontamination” of the brand? (i know SpAds aren’t exactly high profile but you get the point)

  • tacapall

    “No one is against rehabilitation, but, surely, a first step towards rehabilitation would be a recognition of a wrong-doing – something which SF have never, and never will acknowledge”

    Heres the other side of that coin Paulk

    “On 8th July 1981, on the Falls Road in Belfast, Nora McCabe stepped out of her house in her bedroom slippers to go to the shop. Almost immediately, she was shot dead by a plastic bullet, fired from a passing police jeep. At her inquest, one after another, the five police involved repeated the same story that there was a riot taking place and they had acted in self-defence. It looked like the inquest was going their way until suddenly the McCabe family’s lawyer, a young Pat Finucane, introduced a new witness – a Canadian cameraman who happened to be in the area at the time. The film was shown to the court, and revealed that the Falls Road that morning was deserted. It shows the jeep coming down the road, turning into Linden Street where Nora lived and it shows the puff of smoke from the gun that fired the lethal shot. There had been no riot, and Nora had been killed in cold blood.

    If the rule of law had prevailed in Belfast at the time, one might expect a prosecution of the killers to have emerged, and for the officers to have been tried for perjury. Instead, the inquest was stopped, never to be reopened; the young solicitor’s assassination was arranged by a British agent; and the man in charge of the police in the landrover, Jimmy Crutchley, was given a medal and a promotion”

  • BarneyT

    I dont see what is significant about the 5 year term. They are either trying to clean up politics or they are not.

    Its also not just a simple case of removing folks with a “criminal” past. Little consideration has been given to the puculiarity of NI and many were criminalised (some rightly some wrongly) as a result of the NI circumstance. Indeed some took action in response to the attacks or reprisals they faced, and again there are situations in NI that were driven and fuelled by the troubles.

    In finding peace, we have taken measures that were at one time deemed impossible. Prisoners were released, which surely thrusts them into the realm of political prisoner. Some awful things happened, but we need to look at the act committed and why (for all sides) before we decide to remove or exclude special advisors.

    My preference would be to draw ex-combatants into the political sphere. What advise do they think an ex-IRA bomber is now going to give SF? Return to “war”…or is it likely to be strategic….politically strategic.

  • Morpheus

    “He [AG] expressed himself satisfied that the legislation was competent as far as article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights was concerned. However, and I have discussed this with other lawyers, I am still worried about the retrospection aspect of clause 2. I still worry that it could be challenged, not , perhaps, under article 7, but under the principles of natural justice. I am not saying to the House definitively but I believe that there is a danger therein, and that the present clause 2 will not fully satisfy the scrutiny of a court under judicial review. That is a personal view and is shared by others in my party. However, we still fear and believe that that provision in the Bill is not competent. I have no doubt that that will be tested in time. The courts will then be in a position to determine that issue”
    Alban Maginness

    From his website: “He [Alban Maginness] read for the Northern Ireland Bar at Queen’s University Belfast, and was called to the Northern Ireland Bar Michaelmas in 1976 and the Bar of Ireland Michaelmas in 1984. In 2007 he completed a Masters in Human Rights Law from Queens University, Belfast.”
    http://www.albanmaginness.com/profile.html

    So why allow it to pass Alban? Who foots the bill if the courts fall on the side of Kavanagh?

    I’ll say it again, poor government.

  • Mick Fealty

    Because once the argument pitted the rights of victims against the rights of perpetrators, surely there was some value in standing by the victims in whatever limited terms were available to them?

    Besides after SF spent a cool 8mill at DRD on payouts relating to its own discriminatory practices, how much can it cost to defend?

  • Fortlands

    This bill is being brought forward as a protection of (some) victims’ sensitivities. I don’t know but my guess is that Martin McGuinness played a more central role in the IRA than Paul Kavanagh. If (some) victims are able to stomach/tolerate/accept Mr McGuinness as Deputy First Minister, how is it that Mr Kavanagh as an advisor is deemed insensitive and provocative? There’s also the inconsistency of Jim Allister being voiceless about the continuation in post of British officers involved in his legal colleague Pat Finucane’s death but vocal in his insistence that such as Paul Kavanagh be removed.

  • CiaranM

    Mick, your stance completely ignores the inconvenient reality that the ‘law’ was constructed by one of the protagonists to the conflict and utilised as a propaganda tool to determine who could be considered ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators.’ A person with decent values should be uncomfortable with any process that absolves the people of real power while applying the invidious label of ‘perpetrator’ primarily to working class people from the historically subordinate community. Take my own personal story – my father, a Catholic civilian – murdered by the Shankill UVF. I believe the actions of the 3 impressionable young fella’s who carried his murder out were less reprehensible than those in positions of privilege within the dominant community – those who vehemently resisted moves towards equality for Nationalists/those who preached the supremist gospel of hate (often to the trigger men); and those from across the Irish sea with ultimate historical obligation for the conflict – from the ‘see no evil hear no evil’ crowd to the ideological enablers of the sectarian state. The effect of the bill is to re-write and distort history in a way that scapegoats the relatively powerless while letting the main culprits – the ‘respectable’ men and women in suits – off the hook.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s a political call Ciaran and, especially given your circumstances, a perfectly respectable one. For the record, and I’ve said this from the start, there should not have been any need for an Ann’s Law.

    Ex prisoners, particularly those who were politically motivated during the troubles should be backed to the hilt in going as far in society as possible.

    But the fact that Ms McArdle was appointed after Ms Travers’ confrontation of Martin in the Presidential election suggests it was actually something of a political move in itself.

    I’m sure that will be denied, but there comes a point where people are entitled to draw negative conclusions if no clearer explanations are forthcoming. That’s what started all this down a political rather than a purely legal road.

    [Adds: Actually, I think Alban’s got his timeline wrong http://goo.gl/yPuXX in relation to the timing http://goo.gl/pM7VG%5D

  • jonno99

    “….completely ignores the inconvenient reality that the ‘law’ was constructed by one of the protagonists to the conflict and utilised as a propaganda tool to determine who could be considered ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators.’ A person with decent values should be uncomfortable with any process that absolves the people of real power while applying the invidious label of ‘perpetrator’ primarily to working class people from the historically subordinate community”.

    The whole premise of the NI state was one built upon a sectarian head count. It had conflict and discrimination written into its DNA. The people of real power that misruled this state for decades have in effect answered to no one.

  • Morpheus

    I understand the need to stand by the victims but why not enforce a law which already exists, one that would bring justice to the families of numerous victims in 1 fell swoop? And yes, before anyone starts rambling about moping I am talking about Bloody Sunday. Here we have the names of those who committed the murders and the evidence to back it up – where are the prosecutions? Why are we not in solidarity in support of these victims? Should we take it to Jim to see if he will take the case forward? I wonder what he will say…

    Is getting this law, any law, through so important that it’s worth putting it through even if it is potentially in a flawed state? Or would it be better to whip it into shape so everyone can vote ‘Yes’ on it and alleviate the risk of Kavanagh winning an appeal at the ECHR and SF hitting the jackpot?

    Would it not be better to put the right law through?

  • Lionel Hutz

    There was never any issue with Article 7 of the ECHR. This is not punishment like say passing a law that retrospectively criminalizes people.

    The retrospective nature of the legislation is offensive to natural justice. More particularly, I would say that Paul Kavanagh would have had a legitimate expectation that having been deemed eligible for a fixed term post in 2011, he would have remained eligible in 2013. The AG seems to have been asked a very narrow question, and I wouldn’t disagree with it.

    Again this is a personal opinion, but I would go further than Alban and say that if Paul Kavanagh was intent on challenging that provision, he would have a very strong case. The question would be what relief would he get.

    As I asked this before however, would Sinn Fein be wiser to simply let this fester and not challenge it. Because if they challenged and were successful, then the whole affair could play into the SDLPs hands and their indecision would be vindicated. And what would SInn Fein really gain? One man would be able to keep his job for 3 years.

  • Morpheus

    “As I asked this before however, would Sinn Fein be wiser to simply let this fester and not challenge it. Because if they challenged and were successful, then the whole affair could play into the SDLPs hands and their indecision would be vindicated. And what would SInn Fein really gain? One man would be able to keep his job for 3 years.”

    SF won’t be able to keep the momentum of this spat with the SDLP going until the next election in 2016 but I am sure it will be brought up enough to remind the electorate what happened, especially in Derry, home of Kavanagh. The gap between SF and SDLP is already marginal so it could cause a swing and an extra seat to SF taking them to the 30 needed to raise a POC without needing support from anyone else.

    If SF take this to the ECHR then 2 things can happen: they win and hit the propaganda jackpot or lose and Kavanagh still doesn’t keep his job.

  • HammerTime

    “The whole premise of the NI state was one built upon a sectarian head count. It had conflict and discrimination written into its DNA. The people of real power that misruled this state for decades have in effect answered to no one.”

    Yawn.

  • Morpheus

    One last question before I hit the pit Mick. In your piece you say that there is only 1 winner and it was clearly Jim Allister. If the victims from Bloody Sunday came to Jim and asked him to use his “considerable legislative and political skills” to help them get justice do you think he would be as forthcoming? Surely that would be easy for a man with his skills because he wouldn’t need to create a new law and the investigative work would already have been done.

    There is a hierarchy of victims it would seem – even among the innocent civilians.

  • Gopher

    Apart from Jim Allister I think the average person on the street won. It was a good day for them

  • Mick Fealty

    Morpheus,

    In a word, no.

    My advice to SF is start cutting some proper deals with the DUP, and put down some real policy changes on a whole range of core issues (Irish language, overcrowding in north Belfast, fair treatment for ex prisoners, etc, etc) before the future comes and eats your homework!

    As a last late post script, I thought this was an interesting response from Dominic Bradley earlier:

    It illustrates, I think, just what thin ice SF are walking on here.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Am Ghobsmacht, Were you born here ? Swallowing what party line ? Capitalising on victims sufferings is not just a Sinn Fein game, if you lived here you would know that but you just walt away there and make assumptions about me and who I support. Deal with facts – The JA bill is a law that says some murderers need not apply. Explain to me how that makes sense ?

    Yes- Born and bred in Mid-Ulster.

    Capitalising on victims is not just a SF game, hence I used the words ‘equally cynical’ to show that I know this to be the case.

    The JA bill could perhaps be improved, by lowering or in removing the time-served limit.

    I’m sure I mentioned something similar to you before about this….

    Would love to chat and repeat myself more but gotta go drilling for a couple weeks…

  • Reader

    Morpheus: Here we have the names of those who committed the murders and the evidence to back it up – where are the prosecutions? Why are we not in solidarity in support of these victims? Should we take it to Jim to see if he will take the case forward? I wonder what he will say…
    He would say that most of the evidence is inadmissable, so there’s no real prospect of a conviction. Just the same as a generation of Armani suited shinner lawyers have probably told the leadership.
    However, JA might be willing to give it a go if he thought there was a chance of getting Martin McGuinness in the witness box under oath.
    The other thing is, who is paying? Jim does his MLA work for the salary, but expects to be paid for his legal work. Do you think RFJ will pay him? How about FAIR?

  • Morpheus

    I am not asking JA to represent them I am asking him to seek justice for the victims with the same gusto with which he helped implement Ann’s Law. He is, like the rest of us, all about the victims, right? Here’s a chance to help bring justice for over a dozen families with one fell swoop, wouldn’t that be great for cross-community relations?

    Or do we just forget about these victims?

    As for paying for it then it would be paid for in the same way that any murder gets paid for, why would that be any different?

    (PS. I couldn’t give a rats behind when it comes to GA, MMcG or SF when it comes to this Reader and I am not 100% certain why they have been brought up because I didn’t mention them)

  • cynic2

    “Surely that would be easy for a man with his skills because he wouldn’t need to create a new law and the investigative work would already have been done.”

    That’s a shocking suggestion. Think of the damage it would do to all those hugely expensive lawyers they have employed (funded by the State). Do you want to take the bread from their mouths? To join poor Mr Kavanagh on the dole – not that we suspect he will long remain there.

    Now let me be clear. I do think they need justice _ I think we all do – arising out of what happened on Bloody Sunday and I for one (and as a Unionist who believes in the rule of law) would be delighted to see those who committed rimes charged and in court. But here’s the rub. I would like to see that for all the murders and atrocities – not just those for or against once side and the vast majority of the legal effort and victims support groups here are from one side of the community.

  • Morpheus

    “But here’s the rub. I would like to see that for all the murders and atrocities – not just those for or against once side and the vast majority of the legal effort and victims support groups here are from one side of the community.”

    I think it’s safe to say that all the Slugger readers would like to see justice for all the families cynic but we can only do that a bit at a time. The Saville Report paves the way for over a dozen families to get justice and justice should be served. Waiting for people like those commanding the 1st Battalion that day (who got his OBE 1 year after Bloody Sunday) to die so justice can’t be served should be as unacceptable to you and as a Unionist who believes in the rule of law as it is to me, a ‘Unicorn’ who believes in the rule of law.

    For the record, I only brought Bloody Sunday up to show the absurdity of painting JA as some sort of caped crusader for victims when in reality we all know he would not touch this set of victims with a barge pole creating a hierarchy even among the innocent civilians.

  • Reader

    Morpheus: I am not asking JA to represent them I am asking him to seek justice for the victims with the same gusto with which he helped implement Ann’s Law.
    You called for “prosecutions” and asked if Jim Allister “will take the case forward”. But if you didn’t mean for JA to take up the legal case, then what? There is little enough that the Assembly can do, unless you want to extend the new SpAd rules to everyone suspected of a crime, to every job in the civil service, and to every pension paid. That might discourage the Paras from retiring to NI.
    Morpheus: As for paying for it then it would be paid for in the same way that any murder gets paid for, why would that be any different?
    Because you would be talking about a private prosecution. No doubt a worthy use for SF’s campaigning fund, but see below.
    Morpheus: I couldn’t give a rats behind when it comes to GA, MMcG or SF when it comes to this Reader and I am not 100% certain why they have been brought up because I didn’t mention them
    Because a private prosecution funded by republican money would have to overcome the hurdle presented by the party’s interests, and the interests of the leadership. I think I managed to suggest a reason why it has not happened yet.