Northern Ireland news

Key decisions that could be affected by Arc21 ruling

Plans for the redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast
Brendan Hughes

THE High Court ruling that a Stormont permanent secretary had no power to approve the Arc21 incinerator plans raises questions over a raft of other key decisions that have fallen upon the civil service:

:: Casement Park

In the absence of a minister, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) was due to make a decision on plans for a new GAA stadium in west Belfast.

The project has already faced years of setbacks. A revised planning application was submitted last year after the original approval was quashed in a legal challenge in 2014.

Around £62m of public funds has been allocated to the project, but the GAA has told Stormont officials it cannot proceed without more money – another decision likely to require a minister.

:: North/South Interconnector

DfI granted planning approval to the Northern Ireland section of the new £200m cross-border energy project in January.

The 21-mile section of the 400kV overhead electricity line would run through parts of Armagh and Tyrone.

The project has faced years of opposition and a group of landowners have launched a legal challenge to the DfI decision, with the absence of a minister among their arguments.

:: Lough Neagh sand dredging

In November, DfI decided against issuing a stop notice on companies dredging sand from Lough Neagh.

It followed a court case taken by environmental campaigners against a former minister's decision not to immediately stop extraction, which does not have planning permission.

The court last June found the minister took the wrong approach, and referred the decision back to DfI to reconsider. But DfI officials said that based on up-to-date environmental information, it was "not expedient" to stop the dredging.

:: Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry

The inquiry into child abuse in institutions was completed in January last year and made a series of recommendations including a state apology and compensation.

But civil service chief David Sterling has said officials cannot act without ministerial approval.

The example was referenced in the Arc21 legal challenge to demonstrate inconsistencies in approaches to decisions without ministers.

:: Major road projects

Funding for the A5 upgrade had political agreement, but the decision to proceed with construction was taken in November in the absence of ministers.

Construction was due to begin in early 2018 at a cost of £150m and was put on hold after a fresh legal challenge.

Roads expert Wesley Johnston last night said: "It depends what view the judge takes on the matter."

However, he said other projects such as the A6 and York Street interchange should be able to continue as planned.

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