THE sister of an IRA murder victim has held face-to-face talks with SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell over his party’s decision to block a bill banning those with serious convictions from becoming Stormont advisers.
Ann Travers described her meeting at the party’s south Belfast offices on Thursday as “emotional”.
She said she hoped to convince him that the party should change its stance over the Special Advisors (SPADs) Bill.
The SDLP is to hold talks next Tuesday to discuss whether to forge ahead and joind forces with Sinn Fein and launch a petition of concern against the bill.
Speaking on Tuesday after hearing of the SDLP’s plans, Ann Travers said: “I feel so disappointed, gutted – I have been punched in the stomach.
“And I feel they (SDLP) don’t understand how hugely symbolic this bill is for victims of violence in Northern Ireland.
“The whole point of this bill is that what happened to my family would never happen again.
“I never expected that, just because they didn’t get their own way, they’d try to block it.
“I expected to bang my head off a brick wall with Sinn Fein, but I never expected it from the SDLP. Never in a million years.”
Following her meeting with Dr McDonnell, Ms Travers said: “It was an emotional meeting.
“I asked them to remember that this is a bill for all victims, not just for the Travers family.
“I do think they listened. I felt when I went into the meeting perhaps minds had already been made up but I do think they heard what I had to say.”
Ms Travers’ sister Mary was shot dead by an IRA gang as she left a church in south Belfast with her family in 1984.
The Special Advisors Bill was proposed after Mary McArdle – who was convicted of involvement in the murder – was appointed as a Sinn Féin advisor to Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.
She left the role following a campaign by Ms Travers.
If the bill becomes law no one with a conviction leading to a five-year jail term will be able to become a special advisor.
It passed its further consideration stage on Monday, despite opposition from Sinn Féin and the SDLP – who tabled amendments which were rejected.
The party wanted only advisers appointed after the law is introduced to be affected.
Ms Travers continued: “The amendment the SDLP wanted was slight, I know one of the things they wanted was about being applied retrospectively but I don’t really understand that because if Mary McArdle was still in the position it would mean she kept it.
“To be honest I still don’t know but I hope I have convinced them not to vote for a petition of concern.”
The SDLP has indicated it may still introduce a petition of concern to block the bill.
Previously, Dominic Bradley MLA said: “This bill and the debate reiterates the need for a more far-reaching mechanism for dealing with truth and the past to be developed and enacted without further delay. We cannot support this bill as it stands unamended.
“For the SDLP, the acid test for dealing with the issue of special advisers has always been the rights of victims enshrined in the right legislation.”
TUV leader Jim Allister, who brought the bill to the Assembly, said: “A petition of concern would be a total travesty. The Assembly is quite clear that it is supportive of this bill.
“This bill is about righting a wrong.”