DUP politician accused of calling a Sinn Féin adviser a murderer avoids ban

Monday 19 November 2012 17.25
Assembly members narrowly voted against imposing the seven-day suspension on South Down MLA Jim Wells
Assembly members narrowly voted against imposing the seven-day suspension on South Down MLA Jim Wells

A Democratic Unionist politician accused of calling a Sinn Féin ministerial adviser a murderer in the corridors of Stormont has avoided a week-long ban from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Assembly members narrowly voted against imposing the seven-day suspension on South Down MLA Jim Wells after an angry debate in the chamber.

The inflammatory claims related to encounters Mr Wells had with Sinn Féin Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and her then special adviser Mary McArdle in June last year.

Ms McArdle's appointment to the post, which she has since left, was met with a storm of controversy.

During the Troubles she was convicted of involvement in the 1984 murder of magistrate's daughter Mary Travers in Belfast.

Details of the incidents were today outlined to the Assembly by deputy chair of its Standards and Privileges Committee Kieran McCarthy.

The incidents were investigated by former interim Assembly commissioner for standards Tom Frawley following complaints by both women.

The seven-day suspension was recommended by the Committee for Standards and Privileges after Mr Wells refused to apologise for his conduct.

Despite the tight margin of the vote - 51 to 49 - Mr Wells was always unlikely to have been censured after the DUP lodged a petition of concern with the Assembly.

The mechanism ensured that a vote could only have been deemed passed if a majority of both unionist and nationalist MLAs backed it.

Ms McArdle was at the centre of controversy when she was first appointed to the government position in May 2011, given her conviction over the 1984 murder of Mary Travers.

The 22-year-old, who was the daughter of a judge, was shot dead by an IRA gang as she left a church in south Belfast with her family.