Wells escapes ban after adviser row

Wells escapes ban after adviser row

21 November 2012

SOUTH Down MLA Jim Wells has avoided a week-long ban from the Assembly.

The DUP man had been accused of calling a Sinn Fein ministerial adviser a “murderer” in the corridors of Stormont. On Monday, Assembly members voted by 51 votes to 49 against imposing the seven-day suspension on Mr. Wells after an angry debate in the chamber.

The inflammatory claims related to encounters Mr. Wells had with Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin 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 as during the Troubles she was convicted of involvement in the 1984 murder of magistrate’s daughter Mary Travers in Belfast.

In two encounters in Parliament Buildings — one with Ms Ni Chuilin and one with Ms. McArdle — Mr. Wells made clear his feelings about the special adviser.

Details of the incidents were outlined to the Assembly on Monday by the deputy chairman of its Standards and Privileges Committee, Strangford MLA Kieran McCarthy.

Ms. Ni Chuilin claimed Mr Wells was “very angry, venomous and intimidating” during their encounter and had said: “You needn’t think you are going to bring that murderer to South Down.”

In the later episode, Ms. McArdle claimed Mr Wells was “forceful, aggressive and intimidating” to her and, as he passed her on the first floor corridor, said: “There is the murderer herself.”

Mr. Wells accepted both encounters took place but challenged the two women’s version of events. He said he did not call Ms. McArdle a murderer but conceded he used the phrase “monster adviser.”

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

Mr. Frawley was unable to corroborate any of the various versions of events but found that Mr. Wells had not shown sufficient respect to the women and as such had breached a code of conduct for MLAs.

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