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31 March 2013 Edition

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SDLP accepts hardline unionist Bill against prisoners

‘Would the SDLP have discriminated against Nelson Mandela?’ – Barry McElduff MLA

A HARDLINE UNIONIST Bill stopping ex-prisoners who have served more than five years for conflict-related offences taking up Special Adviser (SpAd) posts to MLAs has been allowed by the SDLP to pass its first stage in the Assembly despite opposition by Sinn Féin.

The Special Advisers (Civil Service) Bill is the creation of hardline unionist leader Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice, who claimed it was out of respect to victims.

Sinn Féin tabled an amendment to the Bill so that candidates with a history of conflict-related offences could be referred to a panel from the Office of First and Deputy First Minister but this was unsuccessful.

Martin McGuinness said after the Bill passed its initial stage:

“I am disappointed in the SDLP for failing to block the Special Advisers Bill as it undermines equality and the Good Friday Agreement. By supporting TUV legislation against former prisoners, the SDLP have thrown the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement out of Stormont’s windows.”

Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff (West Tyrone) asked:

“Would the SDLP have discriminated against Nelson Mandela?”

SDLP and other MLAs have been urged by equality campaigners to support a Petition of Concern to block the discriminatory move by the Traditional Unionist Voice leader. Any vote taken by the Assembly can be made dependent on cross-community support if a Petition of Concern is presented to the Speaker by 30 or more MLAs (Sinn Féin has 29).

If this happens, a vote on proposed legislation can only pass if supported by a weighted majority (60%) of members voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.

Sinn Féin MLA Megan Fearon (Newry/Armagh) said it is clear that the TUV Bill is politically motivated:

“Jim Allister’s Bill undermines the Good Friday Agreement and equality as it serves only one purpose, which is to discriminate against political ex-prisoners in employment.”

North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay accused the SDLP of again “failing the equality test”. He said:

“If the SDLP are for an end to discrimination then there is one option left for the SDLP and that is to block the Bill by signing a Petition of Concern. Will they do this or will they be exposed again in failing to protect equality and the Good Friday Agreement?”

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