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Passing bad law will not help victims says special adviser

Convicted IRA killer Paul Kavanagh faces the prospect of losing his job as a result of Jim Allister's special advisers bill. He tells political reporter John Manley about his salary, his past and what he plans to do if he gets the sack IT IS difficult to gauge the depth of anger Paul Kavanagh feels over the possibility of losing his job as a special adviser or 'spad' to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Throughout the 15-minute interview in his office at Stormont he remains stoic and largely unemotional, changing his expression only once - to laugh when it is suggested he take a greater interest in his pension contributions.

It is hard to discuss Stormont's special advisers without mentioning their generous remuneration package, which is believed to be in the region of £90,000 a year.

Mr Kavanagh insists he receives nowhere near this amount and is instead paid an "industrial wage" of around £1,600 a month by Sinn Fein.

He claims to be unaware of what his pension entitlement, if any, amounts to - hence the aforementioned financial advice.

In recent days it has emerged that even his reduced salary could be in jeopardy as the Belfast-born former prisoner is expected to become the first casualty of Jim Allister's special advisers bill.

Out of seven Sinn Fein special advisers at Stormont, the 57-year-old is the only one whose record fits the bill's sacking criteria.

Mr Kavanagh received a 35-year minimum sentence for a bombing campaign in London in 1981.

He was convicted alongside Thomas Quigley of the murder of two passersby killed by a nail bomb at Chelsea barracks and of the murder of a bomb-disposal officer in Oxford Street.

In 1989 he married fellow IRA prisoner Martina Anderson, now a Sinn Fein MEP, at Full Sutton Prison in England.

He was released as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and has worked for the party since then.

Notably the Traditional Unionist Voice leader's bill is already having an impact even before becoming law - compare Mr Kavanagh's willingness to talk to the press with the wall of silence that greeted journalists two years ago when The Irish News reported how Mary McArdle had been appointed a special adviser to Sinn Fein culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

It was this move - and the surreptitious manner in which it was carried out - that drew the ire of Ann Travers, whose 22-year-old sister Mary had been shot dead by the IRA in 1984 as gunmen attempted to murder her magistrate father Tom Travers.

Ms McArdle, who was 19 at the time of the killing, was sentenced to life for her part in Mary Travers's murder and released 14 years later.

Following public outcry at her appointment, Sinn Fein moved Ms McArdle from her post but the episode prompted North Antrim MLA Jim Allis-ter to bring forward his bill to prevent the appointment of anyone sentenced to five years or more in jail from becoming a special adviser to Stormont ministers.

Up until this week it was widely expected that the SDLP would help Sinn Fein veto the bill by signing a petition of concern. The SDLP's about-turn in the face of mounting pressure has angered Sinn Fein.

Mr Kavanagh echoes his party's scathing assessment of its political rival, claiming that while the bill will affect him personally, the bigger picture is more important.

"You have a situation where a party which professes to be champion of human rights has decided that this bill is bad law and flawed yet they're going to allow it to proceed," he says.

"By doing this the SDLP are going against the whole spirit of the Good Friday Agreement."

He says Mr Allister's bill "is not about victims" but is part of the TUV leader's "anti-peace process agenda and exclusion".

Mr Kavanagh asserts that he is a victim himself - his 18-year-old brother Albert was shot dead by the RUC in 1972 in disputed circumstances - and he says he understands Ann Travers's loss.

"But what I don't understand is how passing bad legislation will help victims," he says.

When it is put to him that the bill will prevent the likes of Ann Travers feeling humiliated and hurt by such appointments, Mr Kavanagh argues that a peace process is not built around the hurt that one individual feels.

"We are 20 years into this peace process and we are trying to move for-ward," he says.

"Yes, people have had to accept things that they didn't like - and we can't take away the hurt - but we can't keep going back and planning the future based on the past."

He also stresses that ex-prisoners have been working as special advisers since the days when the SDLP's Seamus Mallon was deputy first minister yet nobody batted an eyelid.

Mr Kavanagh said he would seek to challenge his sacking if and when he is removed from his job.

"Everybody has a duty to challenge bad legislation," he says.

He points to those who committed crimes in the name of the British state but have not faced prosecution or exclusion from certain jobs.

"I feel I'm being punished twice," he says.

Mr Kavanagh rejects the suggestion that his appointment was designed to appease the IRA.

He claims that he brings to the special adviser role specialist skills honed during his seven years working with voluntary groups, lobbying government and formulating party policy.

"I've been doing this job for four years and I haven't heard any complaints," he says.

"If I didn't do a good job I'd be out the door."

He says there is yet to be any discussion about moving him into another party post at Stormont so, as far as he is concerned, he will be out of work when the law comes into effect.

There is of course provision to appeal against his sacking and while Mr Kavanagh admits "regret" over his past actions, he cites SDLP criticisms that the grounds on which the proposed law can be challenged are "too narrow".

The possibility of Mr Kavanagh meeting an appeal's requirements for displaying contrition and helping the police are highly unlikely but it seems equally remote that he will walk out of his Stormont job without protest.

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