Legal challenge against DUP north south boycott to focus on December meeting

ireland
Legal Challenge Against Dup North South Boycott To Focus On December Meeting Legal Challenge Against Dup North South Boycott To Focus On December Meeting
Belfast Crown Court, © PA Archive/PA Images
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By David Young, PA

A legal challenge against the DUP’s boycott of cross-border political meetings will attempt to ensure next month’s full meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) proceeds.

Belfast businessman Sean Napier is seeking an order from the High Court to compel the DUP to re-engage with the NSMC structures.

The DUP is refusing to participate in north south meetings, apart from those relating to health issues, as part of its protest against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Last month, High Court judge Mr Justice Scoffield ruled the DUP position was unlawful following a judicial review challenge by Mr Napier. But he stopped short of making a court order compelling the party to engage in the meetings.

Belfast businessman Sean Napier has launched a legal bid (Niall Carson/PA)

Despite the ruling, the DUP has continued to stay away from previously planned north-south meetings.

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Mr Napier is now seeking a specific order from the court compelling the party to attend.

At a review hearing on Tuesday, the case was set for a full hearing of Mr Napier’s application for additional relief on Tuesday December 7th.

The application was originally set for hearing on Tuesday but was delayed due to the time it took to secure documents from The Executive Office on matters related to the scheduling of north south meetings.

Mr Napier had initially hoped to secure an order ahead of two planned sectoral meetings of the NSMC at the end of November.

His barrister Ronan Lavery QC told the court on Tuesday that he accepted that was no longer possible given the delay to the proceedings.

He said the full plenary meeting in December was now the focus of the challenge.

“Some meetings are more important than others and our focus now is the plenary meeting which the Taoiseach (Micheál Martin), the Tánaiste (Leo Varadkar) and the First Minister (Paul Givan) and deputy First Minister (Michelle O’Neill) – basically the two governments – are to meet and that is due to take place in December,” he said.

Mr Lavery told judge Scoffield that no specific date had been set for the December meeting yet.

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“That has now become the focus of our attention – the other dates we had been working towards it just hasn’t been achievable,” he added.

DUP First Minister Paul Givan is not legally represented in the case (Liam McBurney/PA)

While December 7th was one of the few hearing dates that suited the diaries of the judge and the various legal parties, Justice Scoffield did express concern it might be too late to affect the scheduling of the NSMC plenary.

Mr Lavery replied: “I do recognise that, my lord.”

The DUP stance has resulted in some recent sectoral meetings of the NSMC being unable to proceed as, under Stormont rules, such meetings with the Irish Government cannot take place without the participation of both a unionist and a nationalist minister from the Northern Ireland Executive.

DUP First Minister Paul Givan and junior minister Gary Middleton are not legally represented in the judicial review proceedings.

Three other DUP ministers named as respondents in the challenge – Gordon Lyons, Edwin Poots and Michelle McIlveen – are represented in court.

The court has previously been told the joint nature of Stormont’s Executive Office means Mr Givan and Mr Middleton cannot be legally represented without the approval of Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Barrister Dr Tony McGleenan GC, representing the other three DUP ministers, told an earlier review hearing that he believed the case could be presented in a way which did not require specific representation from the First Minister or junior minister.

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