‘Astonishing’ that Sinn Fein could appoint advisers with convictions – minister

A TD had indicated any ban on people with criminal convictions working as advisers in a Sinn Fein-led government would ‘depend on the circumstances’.

Dominic McGrath
Thursday 17 February 2022 15:38
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said that the idea of anyone with a criminal conviction serving as an adviser was ‘astonishing’ (Brian Lawless/PA)
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said that the idea of anyone with a criminal conviction serving as an adviser was ‘astonishing’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

An Irish minister has said it is “astonishing” that Sinn Fein might allow people with criminal convictions to serve as government advisers.

Earlier this week, Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy indicated that any ban on people with criminal convictions working as advisers in a Sinn Fein-led government would “depend on the circumstances”.

On Thursday, Education Minister Simon Harris said he was shocked that such a matter would even be debated.

He said: “The idea that we even have to say whether we think it is a good idea that somebody with a criminal conviction would be appointed by the government of Ireland to advise the government.

Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy, right, with party leader Mary Lou McDonald (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I mean, would they be an adviser in the Department of Justice? Would they be an adviser in the Department of Defence? Would they be an adviser in the Department of Foreign Affairs?

“I think this is quite an astonishing thing, that the main opposition party, a party which wishes to lead the government of this country, is not willing to say clearly that it does not believe hiring people with criminal convictions to take up sensitive roles in government is something that should be ruled out.”

Mr Harris said he was confident that such issues would “weigh on the people of the country’s minds when they decide what form of government do they want, what policies do they want and the standards of people in that government and the people who advise them as well”.

He said special advisers are approved by the Cabinet and can have access to “sensitive information”.

Asked by reporters whether such an issue should still be relevant, more than 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland, Mr Harris said it was not simply a case of “the past is the past”.

Speaking during a visit to the Guinness Enterprise Centre in Dublin, the minister said: “I’m more concerned by the future. And very concerned about the policies that would be pursued by an alternative government and also the individuals that would pursue those policies.”

He said it would ultimately be a matter for the public, when the next general election comes around.

Mr Harris said that despite the continued popularity of Sinn Fein since the general election in 2020, the outcome was not a foregone conclusion.

He said: “I think there will be a real clash of ideas, and clash of policies, and clash of perspectives and that’s healthy and the people of this country will adjudicate them.”

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