Northern Ireland news

Daera refuses to disclose Gordon Lyons' communications with senior official around decision to halt inspection posts work

Gordon Lyons halted work on permanent inspection posts on February 25

COMMUNICATIONS between Gordon Lyons and his most senior official about last month's controversial halting of work on permanent inspection posts at the north's ports must remain under wraps, the Department of Agriculture (Daera) has said.

The DUP interim minister, deputising for Edwin Poots while the Lagan Valley MLA was convalescing, took the unilateral decision to stop work on the posts on February 25.

In the aftermath of the move, Stormont's attorney general is understood to have confirmed that the minister should have consulted his executive colleagues before making the announcement.

The substantive impact of his decision is thought to have been minimal, with Mr Lyons confirming to the assembly a matter of days later that checks on goods at ports were continuing.

An anonymous Sinn Féin rank and file member has mounted a legal challenge against Mr Lyons' action on the basis that it was unlawful and a breach of the ministerial code.

In the aftermath of Mr Lyons halting work on inspection posts, The Irish News sought under Freedom of Information legislation any correspondence between the minister and his permanent secretary relating to the matter.

However, while Daera confirmed it holds the information requested, it has refused to disclose it.

It said it was exempt from disclosure as it "relates to formulation and development of government policy".

The department said it had conducted a public interest test and concluded an exemption was applicable to "allow the minister and permanent secretary a safe space and time to fully consider information and for minister to make an appropriate decision on the way forward, away from public interference".

It said the departmental solicitor's advice was that "disclosure may prejudice the processes going forward".

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Northern Ireland news