Assembly rejects proposal to suspend DUP member over comments

Tue, Nov 20, 2012, 00:00

The Northern Assembly has rejected a proposal from the Stormont committee on standards and privileges to suspend DUP Assembly member Jim Wells over comments he made to Sinn Féin Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and to her former adviser.

The non-unionist members of the committee had supported a motion to exclude the South Down MLA from the Assembly chamber for seven days because of remarks he made in the summer of 2011 about the former adviser, Mary McArdle, who was convicted of the 1984 IRA murder of Mary Travers.

The 22-year-old teacher was fatally wounded and her father Tom Travers, a Belfast magistrate, seriously injured in a gun attack as they were leaving Mass in St Brigid’s Church in Derryvolgie Avenue in south Belfast.

In one of the incidents, Ms Ní Chuilín alleged that Mr Wells behaved in an aggressive, venomous and threatening manner by saying to her, “You needn’t think you are going to bring that murderer to South Down.”

‘Murderer’

In another incident Ms McArdle, who was freed from prison under the early release scheme of the Belfast Agreement, claimed Mr Wells, as he passed her in Stormont Parliament Buildings, said to her, “There’s the murderer herself.”

The former Assembly standards commissioner Tom Frawley, following an investigation, ruled that Mr Wells had not shown the two women sufficient respect.

After Mr Wells refused to apologise, the committee on standards and privileges proposed he be barred from Stormont for a week.

But, with the DUP and Ulster Unionists opposing, the motion yesterday was defeated by 51 votes to 49.

Concern

Even had the motion been passed it could not have been implemented as the DUP had lodged a petition of concern, meaning the motion required cross-community support.

The exchanges were frequently bitter and acrimonious and redolent of such debates a decade and more ago.