Q Radio News/PA
A Bill which would have banned political appointees with serious criminal convictions from holding positions on public bodies in Northern Ireland has been defeated by MLAs.
TUV MLA Jim Allister introduced the Political Appointments Bill, which he said had a “moral compass” and “respects victims”.
But Sinn Fein opposed the legislation in the Assembly, describing it as a “wrecker’s bill”.
If the legislation had been passed, it could have forced Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly to leave the Policing Board.
Opening the debate, Mr Allister said that his private member’s Bill sought to terminate the appointment to public bodies of political appointees with serious convictions which led to a prison service of five years or more.
He referred MLAs to Sinn Fein’s nomination of Paul Kavanagh to the Education Authority.
Mr Kavanagh served 14 years in prison for an IRA bombing campaign in England in 1981, which included an attack on Chelsea Barracks in London in which two civilians were killed.
Mr Allister said: “Paul Kavanagh was told by the court he was unfit to be at liberty. This house is asked today, is such a person fit to sit on the Education Authority? That is the question that every MLA must address.
“What is the message to upcoming generations? That it is OK to kill? OK to murder? Provided that you do it in the name of some cause, then you can become political elite? What does that tell the upcoming generation in areas where terrorism is still seeking to recruit?”
Mr Allister then turned to the role of Mr Kelly on the Policing Board, which he said was an “equally notorious situation”.
Mr Kelly was convicted on charges related to the 1973 IRA Old Bailey court bombing in London and was one of 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the Maze prison in 1983.
Mr Allister said: “Those of us who are familiar with the unionist and loyalist community will be very conscious of the fact that there is a huge loss of confidence in policing. When I talk to young people about policing, the riposte I often get is ‘What do you expect, sure Gerry Kelly runs the police’. That is a boil we can lance.
“The fundamental question for each MLA today, is it right that convicted criminals, be they terrorists or other convicts, can be rewarded by political friends?”
Mr Allister concluded: “This is legislation which is set by a moral compass and respects victims. Any law that is set by a moral compass and respects victims is good law.”
Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald said the proposed Bill was an attempt to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
She said: “It runs contrary to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement which recognised the importance of ensuring prisoners can play a positive role in their communities. It is explicitly set out in the agreement that that would include employment opportunities.
“It is no surprise to anyone here that Mr Allister seeks to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
“This is a wrecker’s bill, designed to turn the clock back and to exclude, it limits the participation of one section of our society. This is an anti-democratic piece of legislation.
“Rather than looking back and looking to the failed politics of the past, the failed politics of exclusion, all of us collectively should look to the future and how we can build a more inclusive society where everyone has an opportunity to contribute to create a better future.”
Following a vote, the Bill was rejected by MLAs by 48 votes to 40.
The Bill was similar to legislation Mr Allister brought and was passed in 2013 banning those with serious convictions from becoming Stormont special advisers.