Cochrane – Special Advisors Bill is in conflict with Good Friday Agreement

Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane has said that Jim Allister’s Civil Service (Special Advisors) Bill is not in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement. She was speaking in the Assembly today on the Bill which aims to produce a revised code of conduct for appointment of Special Advisors.

If the bill passes into legislation, prospective and existing special advisors with serious criminal convictions will be disqualified. Judith Cochrane MLA said that while the Bill had many merits, its associated political baggage meant the Alliance Party could not support it at this stage. She also criticised the UUP for supporting it after saying at their conference that they would support ex-prisoners.

Judith Cochrane MLA said: “The Bill brought by Jim Allister MLA is a response to an individual instance, where the appointment of one Special Advisor caused understandable upset to a family. And while we must recognise the horrific and devastating event, we must be careful, as legislators, about making law on the basis of an individual case.

“The appointment of Special Advisors is a decision made by elected Ministers. The job specification, the role they play, the relevant desirable and essential attributes are left to individual Ministers to determine.

“This Bill is in conflict with both the Good Friday and the St Andrew’s Agreement. I would question how those of us who voted for, campaigned for, negotiated and agreed the aforementioned two agreements could support a bill that allows for no consideration to be given to the nature of the crimes for which people have been convicted. It would clearly undermine the spirit of these two agreements.

“I was surprised by the decision of the UUP to oppose this Bill as their Leader Mike Nesbitt said at their conference that they would support ex-prisoners. After Mike’s refusal to support a censure motion of Nelson McCausland who refused to condemn violence at a parade, it shows that the UUP says one thing one day and does another the next day.

“As we endeavour to move away from our dark past and seek to build a brighter future for Northern Ireland we will be faced with many issues that have the potential to cause hurt and pain, and legislation will not always be the answer.

“This is clearly another example of why we need to have a comprehensive mechanism to deal with the legacy of the past in a sensitive and mature manner. Until then, we will not be able to move forward without continuing to be stuck in the past.”


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