Northern Ireland news

Jim Allister's bid to block those with serious criminal convictions from sitting on public bodies fails

TUV leader Jim Allister

A BID by TUV leader Jim Allister to introduce a law preventing people with serious criminal convictions from sitting on the Education Authority and Policing Board has failed.

Mr Allister's private members bill last night fell after MLAs voted by 48 votes to 40 against moving it to the committee stage.

If the North Antrim MLA's proposal had become legislation it would have potentially barred North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly from being a member of the Policing Board and Paul Kavanagh, the husband of former Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Martina Anderson, from sitting on the Education Authority.

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 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

The bill was opposed by Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and People Before Profit.

Introducing the bill for its second reading, Mr Allister said that while the debate was primarily about people holding public offices, for him it was "actually about respecting victims".

"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 from within that community," he said.

"This is legislation that is set by a moral compass and respects victims, and any law that is set by a moral compass and respects victims is good law."

And he added: “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?”

He said the SDLP were “going to kill this bill” by voting against it, while he accused Alliance of being "Sinn Féin’s little helpers".

Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon said Mr Allister had proposed the bill because he "doesn’t believe in these institutions".

Her party colleague Caoimhe Archibald described it as a "wrecker's bill".

“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," she said.

“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."

The Bill was similar to legislation Mr Allister brought and was passed in 2013 banning those with serious convictions from becoming Stormont special advisers.

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