Northern Ireland news

Legal challenge granted over DUP ministerial decision to stop work on permanent border control posts at NI ports

Vehicles at the port of Larne. Picture by Peter Morrison

A MEMBER of Sinn Féin has secured High Court permission to challenge a DUP ministerial decision to stop work on permanent border control posts at Northern Ireland ports.

The man, who cannot be identified, was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the step taken by Gordon Lyons and allegedly maintained by party colleague Edwin Poots.

A judge ruled he had established an arguable case that the decision required approval by the full Stormont Executive.

The legal action will now proceed to a full hearing in October.

In February Mr Lyons, the acting Agriculture Minister at the time, ordered a halt to construction of post-Brexit inspection facilities for food products arriving from Britain.

He said work on the control posts was being stopped in response to practical difficulties caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol - set up to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But he faced heavy criticism from other political parties who accused him of acting unilaterally in an area which required broader Executive consent.

The block was said to have been maintained by Mr Poots after he resumed his position as Agriculture Minister following surgery.

Lawyers for the man behind the challenge issued proceedings, claiming an improper motive behind the decision.

Mr Justice Scoffield rejected submissions made on what he described as "a serious allegation".

He pointed out that there may have been a political motivation which is entirely proper.

However, the judge allowed the case to proceed on separate claims of an unlawful failure to consult ministerial colleagues.

The decision was so significant, controversial and cross-cutting that it should have been tabled at the Executive, it is contended.

Describing himself as a "strong supporter of the Good Friday Agreement", the Sinn Féin member taking the challenge has been granted anonymity due to ongoing tensions.

In legal papers he expressed concern that the decision could destabilise that peace treaty.

Outside court his solicitor welcomed the decision to grant leave for a full judicial review hearing.

Paul Farrell of McIvor Farrell law firm said: "Today is a significant day for the upholding of democratic principles set out in the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act in relation to the power-sharing governance of Northern Ireland.

"The unilateral decision of the DUP Minister to halt protocol works has frustrated those principles and has, as a consequence, created instability in the established political process we have enjoyed since the Good Friday Agreement."

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