#SpAdBill controversy proves cross community politics CAN work

Via Jude Collins, a fascinating spat on Nolan this morning between himself and Malachi O’Doherty. For the most part the argument was over the framing of the SpAd Bill, with Malachi confessing his belief that it was an argument better not having.

Effectively, Jude sees it as a double punishment for past

…the Allister-Alasdair bill has hurled us back into the past, where old quarrels are resurrected, spitefulness and discrimination rule the day, and rather than create jobs, the law sees that someone is kicked out of his job.

Malachi sees it as an outcropping of a materialistic argument in which justification of the IRA’s campaign is their prime objective. This from his Facebook page:

It is marvelous that the IRA came to see that they could only expand politically by slotting in with the majority nationalist view that violence was unwarranted. But they still want the record to show that they were justified in a ‘war’.

Towards the ends of the piece he notes two important things, I think.

– One, that the large anti Agreement sentiment with in the unionist population has here coalesced with a strong distrust of the Sinn Fein project within Catholic population to actually get things done.

– Two, that if Jim Allister is the smartest operator in Stormont then others need to watch what he’s done and start learning from him.

In his view both are significant developments within politics which are to be welcomed.

As I noted here just before Christmas, “what’s required is the emergence substantive political actors who are not committed to ‘being’ in the middle, but are capable of ‘acting decisively through’ the middle.”

I confess, I never dreamed it would be the TUV and the SDLP who’d be the first to make that happen…

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  • News_Meister

    The SPAD Bill debacle in no-way provides evidence for your view ‘cross community politics CAN work’. SPAD was merely a one-off opportunistic attack against Sinn Fein by the TUV, supported by the SDLP in its desparate desire to distinguish itself from its larger Nationalist counterpart – no new ‘community politics’ will flow from this event.

  • Mick Fealty


    Let me be clear, I don’t expect it will flow directly from this. It merely proves that not all unionist and nationalist interests are mutually exclusive.

    As Malachi notes, Ms Travers had smart small ‘r’ republican women like Mairia Cahill and Catherine McCartney in her corner in this crisis.

  • “#SpAdBill controversy proves cross community politics CAN work”

    I was not aware of much cross-community party political action; I think the PRM is a victim in this issue because of its own hypocrisy and Jim Allister, with Civil Service and other support, has used legal expertise to put the PRM into a bind.

    It was OK [‘regrettable but understandable’], from a PRM perspective, to murder or attempt to murder a judge and his family in 1984, in addition to numerous police officers during the Troubles, but it was wrong to murder a police officer in 2011. To add insult to injury, Mary McArdle was appointed to the position of Special Adviser a few weeks later. The choice may have been made on the basis of her relationship with the Minister but it was open to the perception of being a calculated insult.

    In summary, the deputy First Minister did a somersault but landed on his backside.

  • DC

    Mick, seriously, lay off the coffee and seroxat…

  • Morpheus

    The SDLP believe the bill to be flawed and abstained did they not?

  • carnmoney.guy

    I think this is not the last we will see of mary mcardle or paul kavanagh, expect one of them to stand against colm eastwood in derry, while the other one will get a bye ball in west belfast. Two new |MLAs who cant be sacked.

    Word on the street is that Paul Kavangh is especialy an astute operator with the backroom team at Stormont and gets on well with the wheel greasers in NIO / DUP

    Just as the broadcasting ban and the ban on Adams / McGuinness entering part of UK only focused attention on them, so the discriminatory effect of this legislation appears to be one sided and introduces a hieracy of victimhood. Expect Ann Travers to fade in the way the other special victims get picked up and chewed out.

    In regards to the man losing his job, is he not on an industrial wage as per the MLAs?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick, I am getting seriously worried that you are using the plot.

    Cross-community politics is an oft-used term but I think most people accept that it occurs when people put aside their differences to work on a common objective. That’s not what happened here; the SDLP dropped the ball, found themselves backed into a corner and adopted a position which is indefensible in terms of their own record.

    I hate to become part of the crowd of morons who spend a lot of time complaining about your agenda, but in the past week we’ve had circa 15 separate blogs on this single issue and several of those, such as this one, have been shamefully misleading. You’re not Guido Fawkes, please don’t try to be.

  • DC

    Discrimination but only if it can be deemed as unjustified and unreasonable and that the introduction of the legislation was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Remember, discrimination can be justified, it can be reasonable, but a challenge to this act will be interesting.

    Surely the collective legislator should be more objective in its outlook than say a party – SF – that is just part of the legislator, never mind a particular person in a particular party who it seems to be affecting? Of course, I am not a lawyer but Jim Allister is.

    Also – nice to see the Alliance party rediscovering itself after looking a bit mentally disordered in and around the Belfast area.

  • Mick Fealty

    Listen guys. Not much of importance happens these days. Most of what’s above extrapolates from Malachi and Judes convo…

    The last is an amplification of Malachi’s and is backlinked to an argument I made in December (when Belfast was imploding and Alliance councillors were being attacked in their homes.

    Its not whimisical (though I accept I may be dead wrong),

  • DC

    An example of discrimination deemed reasonable and justified is that of preferential treatment by irish public authorities towards Gaelic speakers in the gaeltacht area, who get earmarked houses (among other things) in those areas over others who don’t speak the language.

  • aquifer

    “SPAD was merely a one-off opportunistic attack against Sinn Fein”

    And of course against the notion that it is OK to murder people for political ends when other less violent means are available. Trouble is how can violence be OK then and not OK for armed Irish separatists now? SPAD sets things straight.

    If political parties want to pay these people fine, but they should not be employees of the any civil service.

    And political parties should have enough public funding to pay them.

    It should not be easier for gun gangs to fundraise than for democratic politicians. Diesel smuggling makes millions.

  • DC

    Just listened to the clip, Jude’s argument is sort of flawed about double jeopardy.

    I will attempt an analogy here and say Spads are to the civil service a bit like what shadow banks are to the banking system.

    They both are relatively new concepts but are really in need of regulation in line with the very system they have sprung out of and prop up – if Spads had received the same restrictions and regulation similar to civil service appointments and recruitment, double jeopardy would be ruled out, as there would be no ‘double’ as politically motivated terrorist offences would have pretty much precluded Paul Kavanagh from applying at the outset.

    This is still the case in employment if i am correct that is to say that politically motivated terrorist convictions can work against those who have them when applying for jobs, despite there being **non-statutory ‘guidance’** saying to ignore these types of convictions if the employer so wishes. (However, my knowledge is limited on this and my interest fleeting, so this could be outdated or in fact wrong – maybe he could have passed the spent conviction test and been accepted as a Spad even if civil service type regulation had been in place?)

    Also – isn’t the appeals process a bit of restorative justice for the victim, albeit a v belated one?

    Although arguably at this point there might be double jeopardy, given for instance Paul Kavanagh’s time spent in jail as part of the ‘retributive’ justice dished out to him, for him to have to engage in restorative justice might be seen as being called to account twice.

    Of course the crude way out of that situation is to make sure that no one with such spent offences are allowed into such positions in the first place – as per the civil service.

    This is why Jude’s argument is sort of flawed but not entirely i guess.

  • Mick,

    I think that,unusually, you are indulging in a bit of wishful thinking. I don’t see any evidence of cross-community politics. unionists voted for, republicans voted against and nationalists abstained. If SDLP thought that the legislation was flawed, and I think that any retrospective legislation is bad law and not likely to withstand a legal challenge, they should have had the courage to stand their ground and demand that the Bill be corrected. I don’t really need to repeat my earlier comments but I will; SF were crass and wrong to appoint this particular person, McArdle, to such a position.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Sinn Fein have not got forward one private members Bill in relation to either victims or state collusion in the fourteen years the assembly has been running . What does that say about their commitment on these issues?

  • DC

    Below Paul Kavanagh’s spoof Spad Application Form

    Security Information

    You are reminded that your answers will be checked against national security records.

    Have you ever been involved in:

    a. espionage? No
    b. terrorism? Yes
    c. sabotage? Yes

    d. Actions intended to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy by political,
    industrial or violent means? Yes

    e. Have you ever been a member of, or supported a group or groups involved in any of the
    above activities?


    f. Have you ever had a close association with anyone, including any member of your
    family, who, to your knowledge, has been a member of or given active support to any
    such group or activities?


    OFMDFM’s Response

    Dear Paul

    Thank-you for your interest in the Spad Appointment Process, we regret to inform you that because you have answered yes to the above etc etc…


  • Mick Fealty


    I think you provide us with a KEY underlying weakness in this set play. My own view is that SF have maintained too many too high standards for making comprised solutions and that as a result there’s not enough real deals on the table to deflect criticism on the treatment of those 30k ex prisoners Daithi mentioned in his speech.

    If that’s right, then they were taking a big risk in a situation like this in throwing the kitchen sink at the SDLP (like they have not done for a very very long time). The danger is that they are merely building up SDLP’s credibility with their voters who have never trusted the SF project: ie, the very people who relate to the Travers story.

  • Alias

    “The danger is that they are merely building up SDLP’s credibility with their voters who have never trusted the SF project: ie, the very people who relate to the Travers story.”

    I wouldn’t bet on it, even among the ‘Castle Catholics’. If they ran Mary McArdle or Paul Kavanagh for electoral office the nationalists would most likely vote them in. Why? Because they have been have conditioned by the Shinners to believe that the Shinners interests are interchangable with their own interests, so what is good for the Shinners is good for them and what is bad for the Shinners is bad for them. When the Shinners play the victim card, the nationalists feel victimised. There is safety in numbers, so tribally they’ll back the Shinners as these are now their tribal elders, not the SDLP.

    Like it or not, the nationalists feel that they owe whatever internal comforts they now enjoy within the constitutionally consolidated NI to the Shinners – never mind that they actually traded their former national rights in exchange for ‘get out of jail free’ cards and well-paid British state jobs for the Shinners.

  • Alias

    Also, I wouldn’t discount the considerable value of bloody-minded sectarianism as political currency in nationalism: they’d vote for them to stick it to ‘the prods.’

  • gendjinn

    15 blogs about the SpAd bill and zero on a report of senior members of the British government willfully ignoring collusion between state security forces and terrorists.

    The two outcomes of this bill will be after the next election SF will have sufficient MLAs to submit a petition of concern and the demise of SDLP will be dramatically hastened setting SF up for the FM slot.

    So thanks Jim!

  • Monty_Carlo

    I am a Socialist Republican, I make no bones about it. I have been all my life and I will never change. I hate the Nolan Show, but I was compelled to listen to it on Monday morning. When I heard Daithi Mckay and Dolores Kelly trying to wriggle out of every question they were asked it made me laugh.

    Here’s my take on who is, or who is not a “victim”.

    If an IRA vol. engages the Brit forces in this country and is killed, is he/she a victim? No. If a British soldier is shot dead by the IRA, is he/she a victim? No. (The same goes for UVF/UDA/etc.) A person either male or female that is shot or blown up but has no affiliation to any group, are they a victim? Yes.

    Here’s the problem. What about their families? A dead British soldiers family doesn’t feel any less anguished and a sense of loss than that of an IRA vol.’s family does. But here’s the rub, is there a difference between, say, a guy that goes out to plant a bomb and accidentally blows himself up, and a kid walking home and he/she gets caught in that explosion and killed? Of course there is! One set out to plant a bomb, the other was just going home.

    And again I say, it’s the families, one doesn’t mourn any less.

  • BarneyT

    Mick do you not think the SDLP absention on this, after all events (intervention from characters from the past), ensures that their credibility remains in tatters?

    Allister is no legal slouch, so presumably he knows his bill is GFA tight and it will gain the royal stamp of approval.

    It seems to me that the removal of advisors or anyone else with a “past” runs contrary to some of the GFA drivers. Perhaps embarrassment for Allister lies ahead? Can SF mount a legal challenge to this on GFA compliance terms and are they waiting for the long grass? It would not be out of character.

    Finally, anyone got anthing to say about NI21 🙂

  • Mick Fealty


    I think it gives them a decent position. But I’ll repeat what I said about SF after GE11. It’s a decent beachhead, but future success depends on what you do with it.

  • DC

    Can SF mount a legal challenge to this on GFA compliance terms and are they waiting for the long grass?

    What are they going to mount it on – if as in employment there is only *non-statutory guidelines* i.e. nothing in law to discount conflict-related politically motivated terrorist offences, so with that in mind why should the SpAd process be different and protected if they can’t sort out the mainstream employment sector?

    Just because of jobs for the boys up at Stormont and because we all should believe the SF metanarrative that everything falls because its former prisoners can’t get top public policy jobs in government?

  • Mick Fealty

    We used have new York lawyer commenting who consistently argued NI needed a written constitution. The GFA is not that. Others the AnDrews agreement would have been submitted to referendum.

    ECHR is it I’m afraid…

  • Monty_Carlo


    NI21 sounds like a new strain of bird flu.

  • Morpheus

    Is it NI – Twenty One? Or NI Two-One?

    What is the significance of the 21?

  • Ginger

    I’m sure Mary Travers would not see herself as in any way a”special victim.” But she is special in the sense that she had the courage, not only to express what so many other victims feel, but also what most ordinary people feel, who lived through “the conflict” and felt no overwhelming urge to murder or maim any of our fellow human beings. It had almost got to the stage where you were being made to feel morally inferior if you had not shot or bombed.
    The reaction by some to her refusal to be browbeaten, only serves to highlight her courage and explains why so few have been prepared to put their heads above the parapet to challenge the great “troubles” lie, relentlessly peddled by “combatants,” that we were all equally to blame for almost thirty years of pointless savagery.

  • @Mick,

    The rest of the UK gets along fine without a written constitution. In America we have a written constitution but for several decades the justices on the Supreme Court have felt entitled to disregard it whenever they wished and create rulings stemmed from meanings that no one claimed were in the clauses when they were passed.


    I think your definition is a common-sense definition that most healthy individuals could go along with. But what happens in a place like NI is that politicians soon convince both ethnic communities that they are the victims of the evil that the other side perpetuates. Nationalists believe that they are victims of discrimination–and everything gets recast to fit that mold. Unionists believe that they are victims of republican designs and everything gets recast to fit that.

    @Monty and Barney,
    Mick has reopened the Jasil thread so that you can comment about the new unofficial name there.

  • tacapall

    “What are they going to mount it on – if as in employment there is only *non-statutory guidelines* i.e. nothing in law to discount conflict-related politically motivated terrorist offences, so with that in mind why should the SpAd process be different and protected if they can’t sort out the mainstream employment sector”

    DC can Sinn Fein not just tell everyone to like it or lump it, the British government did, – “Tony Blair has described the retention in the British army of the convicted murderers of a Belfast teenager as an “internal employment matter” in a letter to SDLP leader Mark Durkan.”

    Mick there’s not a chance the SDLP will gain electoral advantage in nationalist areas over the stance they have taken over this bill, I know plenty of victims who will show their anger and will not forget come election time. Of course we could be surprised by a token conviction of an RUC officer or maybe even the big one, the RUC GC apologising for all the wrong doings committed by some of their officers on the nationalist people, David Cameron apologised on behalf of his department, lets see the RUC GC apologise for theirs. If the SDLP can get that then they’d be on a winner.

  • Mick Fealty

    Look Tac,

    I don’t do futuring, but let’s look at what happened here:

    – The sister of an IRA victim rang Joe Duffy (who had been around long enough to clearly remember the horrific circumstances) and told of her upset at the appointment of the only person convinced of that murder.

    – After some heat, Sinn Fein move that SpAd on, nothing is said but reading between the lines the heat was uncomfortable. Even the party leadership know by this stage that McArdle’s a beaten docket.

    – But the damage has been done, Sammy Wilson gets moving and gets the agreement of SF that SpAds must be vetted. Informal arrangements are set in place.

    – Then comes the political powerplay. Jim Allister proposes that this be firmed up in legislation (so that it cannot be subject to internal negotiations but is a binding contract on all parties at Stormont).

    – The powerplay wins for several reasons. One, its demands are extremely modest and two, they call out a moral as well as a a political response and three, the eloquent victim is from right in the heart of the SDLP’s remaining demographic. Once hooked, they cannot get off.

    Why did it happen?

    One, because alone of [almost] all former combatants SF cannot resist bullying their victims, especially if they have embarrassed them in them in some way (libelling Declan Gormley, cost them some significant portion of 1/2 million, when they knew they’d been lying from the start).

    Second, like parades for the DUP, exprisoners is a cause they must defend whether it screws other projects up or not. That’s why I simply buy the line that there is any electoral advantage in this. They are slamming the door on middle class Catholics even tighter than before.

    Third, this is the second public kicking they have had in three months. Both of them from Catholics that the party have treated appallingly badly albeit in different ways. They’ve shown that if you stand your ground, the bully (see FJH’s account the Stickies preferred method in the 70s: http://goo.gl/yadJz) backs down.

    Fourth, none of the above means diddily for the SDLP. But there no such thing as an invulnerable party position. No such thing as historical inevitability. The vast majority of Northern Irish Catholics are constitutional nationalist/republicans. The SDLP will benefit if they learn not to shirk the fight, and to take on the causes of those who still want to vote for them.

    It took one woman who cared deeply about the memory of her sister and one businessman who cared about his reputation to push back. In the case of each they were told at the beginning by some well meaning friends that it would never work for them. Both pressed and both in the end got exactly what they asked for, no more and no less.

    One firend I spoke today said that it sometimes takes a while for disenchantment with a political contract to settle in. My sense (and I could be talking nonsense here) is that the disenchantment here is the deal that everyone has to shut up, batton down and get to the back of Stormont’s grindingly slow ‘wait your turn’ system of publicly funded political patronage.

    If it was the working class they were pissing off, I would be less worried for them. But when are pissing off ‘your own’ middle class (who in every other polity but NI are the active voters) you are developing serious long term problems that need to be addressed sooner rather than later

  • “the eloquent victim is from right in the heart of the SDLP’s remaining demographic.”

    Mick, I’m not part of any party demographic and it’s possible that Ann occupies a similar position.

    In her own words [3 June 2011]:

    “Sinn Fein is a political machine, I’m not political at all and I don’t want to be dragged into the political arguments. For them it is political, for me it is personal.

    “When she got this appointment and it was made so publicly it brought everything back to me, so many emotions, the grief and the sense of loss I feel for my sister and the sense of injustice I feel for her, my dad and my mum.”

    The mother of five, who no longer lives in Northern Ireland, said she has been overwhelmed by the support from other victims.

    “People started to get in touch with me and said ‘you are brave for speaking up’. I don’t feel I’m brave at all.”

  • Comrade Stalin


    Your 9:05PM makes lots of sense and calls it about right, I’d say.

    There is talk further up the thread of the SF challenge. I think SF will take this challenge to the courts – probably all the way to the ECHR – even if they think it will lose because as you had noted Mick they can’t resist standing up for their own lost causes. It’s a loser in my book, not only because Allister himself (few would dispute his competency as a lawyer) but the bills office and separately the Attorney General have already checked it out. Not only is it unlikely that judges will find that anything has been missed; it’s further unlikely that judges will be willing to act to overturn legislation without a very clear and unambiguous case demonstrating its illegality.

  • Mick Fealty

    The parish of St Bridget’s is a demographic of sorts Nev… You don’t opt or opt out of that. If you are in you are in. And most (though not all) are in the SDLP gene pool. Some, though not all, because of what happened that terrible day at the chapel gates.

  • DC

    Your 9:05PM makes lots of sense and calls it about right, I’d say.

    Comrade, I’m glad you’ve come round now to this initiative, i was beginning to worry about you there, you had a bit of a bee in your bonnet over this one.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m not aware of having come around to an initiative of any kind.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I definitely have a bee in my bonnet over the fuss being made over events of the past while in the present we still have unionist politicians and loyalist paramilitaries collaborating in an arms-length fashion to destabilize the country.

  • DC

    That’s just your neurosis kicking in – may you take a seat beside Terry Spence.

  • Mick Fealty


    Watch it!!

  • DC

    Mick, nice piece of analysis 5 June 2013 at 9:05 pm.

    Take the weekend off!