Stormont failing on anti-poverty, rules judge
The Stormont Executive has failed to develop an anti-poverty strategy for Northern Ireland, a High Court judge ruled today.
Mr Justice Treacy held that the power-sharing administration was in breach of a duty to implement an overarching blueprint for tackling social exclusion and deprivation.
Despite acknowledging many programmes and interventions are currently underway, he said a long range plan doesn't exist.
"On the evidence presented it is clear that there is no such strategy," he concluded.
Legal action was taken against the Executive by human rights watchdog Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ).
It claimed there had been a failure to put in place a programme for alleviating poverty. The obligation was said to feature in a section inserted into the Northern Ireland Act following the 2006 St Andrews Agreement which led to the restoration of the Stormont Assembly.
CAJ contended that the direct rule regime which operated before the return of devolution had such a plan, entitled Lifetime Opportunities. But the Stormont administration failed to embrace this and currently has no identifiable anti-poverty strategy, it was alleged.
Counsel for the Executive argued that the Lifetime Opportunities strategy adopted by the Stormont regime proved otherwise.
He insisted the administration was determined to eliminate poverty through education aimed at improving employment opportunities and other initiatives. Ruling on the case today, however, Mr Justice Treacy said there was nothing to show the Executive's "inchoate" strategy was ever finalised.
"There is no evidence that it was ever crafted into a road map designed to tackle the issues referred to in the section," he said.
"While it is clear that there are many current programmes and interventions which in fact deal with the same issues that (the) section seeks to address, that section creates a duty to have an overarching strategy, and it is this long-range plan which doesn't exist and is incapable of being made to exist by the combination of programmes and interventions."
The judge confirmed he was minded to make a declaration that the Executive is in breach of its duties under section 28E of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 through its failure to adopt a strategy for dealing with poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation based on objective need.
Following the verdict CAJ Director Brian Gormally insisted the onus was now on Stormont to deliver.
He said: "At one level this is quite a simple matter - the law said the Executive had to adopt an anti-poverty strategy on the basis of objective need.
"They did not do so and can no longer pretend otherwise."
Mr Gormally added: "This law and the whole framework of resources being tied to objective need was introduced as a cornerstone of the peace settlement and having such a strategy is even more important at a time when increasing austerity is being imposed on Northern Ireland by the finance and welfare provisions of the Stormont House Agreement.
"The law means that any action the Executive takes must be done within the framework of an anti-poverty strategy based on objective need."