A Derry-based special adviser has called on the SDLP to block a bill which would prevent ex-prisoners holding key positions at Stormont.
Paul Kavanagh, a special adviser to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, will be the only ministerial advisor to lose his job if a bill tabled by Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister is passed in the Assembly on Monday.
The bill seeks to bar anyone with a serious Troubles-related conviction from serving as a ministerial advisor. Mr Kavanagh was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement after spending 14 years in prison in England.
Sinn Féin has said it will be voting against the bill, which has the support of the unionist parties. The SDLP initially said it would not support the bill. However during the week party leader Alastair McDonnell said they would not back a petition of concern which would block the move.
30 signatures are required for a petition of concern. Sinn Féin, which has 29 MLAs, need one more signature to launch the petition.
More than 30 local business and community leaders, including a number of ex-prisoners, have signed a letter calling on MLAs to sign a petition of concern to block the bill.
Included among the signatories are Philip O’Doherty from E&I Engineering, Conal McFeely from Creggan Enterprises, Liam Gallagher from Derry Trades Council, and Michael Doherty from the Peace and Reconciliation Group.
Mr Kavanagh, husband of Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, has called on the three Foyle SDLP MLAs to show “moral courage” and block the bill.
“The SDLP have always claimed to be champions of equality and human rights but they are prepared to allow a bill to pass which they have described as bad and flawed.
“I would call on the three Derry SDLP MLAs to have the moral courage to do what is right, not what a section of their party thinks is right. All three know me and know the work I have done over the last 15 years in support of the peace process,” he said.
Mr Kavanagh said the bill is against the Good Friday Agreement.
“It is a threat to the culture of inclusivity that arose from the Good Friday Agreement. It is a move back to the bad old dayS,” he said.
He also said the bill would punish former prisoners.
“This is about creating discrimination which does not help the peace process and certainly does not help victims.
“I have heard Ann Travers speaking and while I do not claim to understand everything she says I do understand the sense of loss. I had a brother killed by the RUC in the Troubles,” he said.
Mr Kavanagh also said he does not know if he will have a job next week.
“On Monday it looks like Jim Allister will succeed. After that it is a step into the unknown. We are talking to lawyers about options but I don’t know what will happen,” he said.