Hightown incinerator ruling: Stormont department to appeal
THE Department for Infrastructure is to appeal a court ruling which found senior civil servants should not have approved a new £240 million waste incinerator in the absence of the Stormont executive.
The High Court ruled on Monday that the decision to grant approval for the proposed waste disposal plant in Co Antrim without a minister being in post was unlawful.
David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, said the law must be clarified on what decisions departments can or cannot take in the absence of ministers.
He said the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) will appeal the court's ruling on the Arc21 incinerator, which was due to be built at Hightown Quarry in Mallusk, Co Antrim.
Mr Sterling said civil servants had been making departmental decisions over the last 16 months in order to keep public services functioning.
"We have been doing this (making decisions) reluctantly and only after taking legal advice. And we never expected, or wanted, to have to do this other than for a very short period of time," he said.
He added: "The arc21 judgment has potentially wide-ranging implications for decision-making in the ongoing absence of ministers. That is why it is important we obtain greater clarity on the legal position and why it is right for DfI to seek to appeal."
Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney said he was disappointed by the department's planned appeal.
"The public interest, and the interest of Hightown residents' safety was served by the High Court ruling last Monday," he said.
"This decision to appeal by the department runs counter to that public interest."
SDLP MLA Mark Durkan said his party continues to back residents opposed to the incinerator.
He said Mr Sterling's call for clarity around civil service powers "sounds alarm bells that signify the dangerous position Sinn Féin and the DUP have led us in to".
"The SDLP have been consistently clear that in order to resolve the ambiguity around these concerns, the British Government must convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to agree a deal and bring forward a package of legislation to ensure Northern Ireland isn't left in limbo," he said.