A Sinn Fein ministerial adviser linked to one of the most shocking killings of the Troubles will stay in her job in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the party has said.
Mary McArdle was convicted of murder for her part in the shooting of primary school teacher Mary Travers in 1984.
The 23-year-old was killed close to St Brigid’s Church in Belfast minutes after leaving Mass with her father, magistrate Tom Travers, who was the intended target of the IRA ambush.
Controversy erupted yesterday after it emerged that Ms McArdle has been appointed as special adviser to new Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, who is also a former republican prisoner.
Last night First Minister Peter Robinson described Sinn Fein’s decision to appoint her as “insensitive and a mistake”.
The dead woman’s sister, Ann Travers, said that her family found the appointment difficult to accept.
“While we all want to move forward and have peace in Northern Ireland, we’re still all allowed to grieve and we should never be asked to stop grieving or forget about our loved ones who were murdered,” she said. “We're not allowed to move on because every time we want to move on Sinn Fein turn the knife a little bit more, and we're asked to accept a little bit more from them.”
Ms Travers said she had been sickened by McArdle’s appointment.
“She's now in the position in which she is paid by the taxpayer — of which my mum is one. I am absolutely horrified that she has been given such a position. I think it's really wrong and I think she should stand down,” she said.
McArdle, who was 19 at the time of the attack, was arrested a short time later on Malone Road.
When searched by police two guns used in the attack were found stuffed down her stockings.
Jailed for life for her part in the attack, she was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
North Antrim UUP MLA Robin Swann said: “The post of special adviser at DCAL needs to be filled by someone who can command respect, confidence and trust from throughout the community.”
But Ms Ni Chuilin said: “I understand, particularly where families have been bereaved, huge issues around grief and I respect that, but I have absolutely no comment to make on that. We are in a post-conflict situation and that's it.”
Defending the appointment, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said: “Almost half our Assembly team are former political prisoners. Mary McArdle was part of moving the peace process forward.”
Background: a shocking deed
Magistrate Tom Travers was shot six times by the IRA as he left Mass at St Brigid's Church in south Belfast with his wife and daughter in April 1984. He was seriously injured but his daughter Mary, a schoolteacher, who was just 23, was fatally wounded.
Mr Travers was unable to attend his daughter's funeral because he was still in the intensive care unit of Belfast City Hospital. In January 2009 the Police Ombudsman's office apologised to Mr Travers for errors in a report into the murder. He died at his home in Holywood in December the same year.