Businessman prepares to order DUP to attend North-South meetings

A businessman will seek a court order forcing the DUP to end a boycott of north-south political structures if he does not change his mind next week.

Belfast businessman Sean Napier returned to court on Friday to demand the removal of the current «confusing picture» after a party minister failed to participate in two cross-border meetings earlier in the day.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has pledged to withdraw from the structures of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC), apart from meetings on health issues, as part of its protest against Northern Ireland’s Brexit protocol.

However, a judge at Belfast High Court, Mr. Justice Schofield, ruled on Monday that the DUP position was illegal.

Despite the ruling, Edwin Potts, the DUP’s agriculture minister, did not participate in two planned virtual meetings with his Irish ministerial counterparts on environmental issues on Friday.

DUP Agriculture Secretary Edwin Potts (Liam McBurney/PA)

Under the Stormont rules, such meetings with the Irish government could not be held without the participation of both the Unitarian and the National Minister from the Northern Ireland Executive.

On Monday, the judge did not issue an order compelling the DUP to participate in future meetings, but told Mr Napier – who had filed the legal challenge – that he could return to court to request one if the party did not act on its declaration of illegality.

Mr. Napier and his legal team returned to the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon.

After a brief hearing, Mr. Scofield allowed the defendants until the end of business on Tuesday to respond, with the case being heard again on Wednesday.

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Speaking out of court, the businessman’s lawyer, Paul Farrell, said the next stage in the process would be for his client to seek a specific court order, unless the DUP changed its position.

“The ball is very clear in the DDF court as far as that is concerned, but Mr Napier is determined to see this through, so we are awaiting with interest the reaction of the leadership and ministers in the DUP on Wednesday of next week,” he said.

Asked what his client would do if the DUP continued to boycott, the attorney added: “Mr Napier’s instructions are to proceed to the next stage which will be a request for a court order regarding the DUP’s involvement with the North and the Ministerial Council of the South, as required of them.»

«The law is very clear on this, so it is up to the ministers and their leadership to explain exactly what is going on.»

Napier said his main goal is to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Carry a copy of the peace agreement to court.

Sean Napier (left) and his attorney Paul Farrell outside Belfast High Court (David Young/PA)

He said, «In 1998 as a young journalist I was in the Stormont premises when that was signed…for me I feel like some kind of custodian of it.»

«He was there for us, he kept the peace here, and it is imperative that it be properly implemented in all its parts. It is not a selective treaty, it is very important for what you have done for the common good of the people here.»

«So I think it’s my duty to be her trustee and today in court has been very positive, and we look forward to more positive protections of the Good Friday Agreement.»

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The DUP claimed that it technically did not boycott Friday’s meetings because it was not possible to officially schedule them after DUP First Minister Paul Gevan refused to sign the agendas.

In line with the DUP’s pledge of its stance on the NSMC, a North-South meeting on health matters was held on Thursday.

Sinn Fein’s junior minister, Declan Kearney, who was due to take part in Friday’s second meeting, said the DUP was «playing railroad smash politics».

«It is time for the DUP to put the interests of ordinary people first by ending this illegal boycott of vital government work and getting back to work on behalf of everyone in our community,» he said.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nicola Mallon, who was due to take part in Friday’s first meeting on maritime issues, accused the DUP of «unacceptable and totally dishonest» behaviour.

She also questioned the reason for the boycott, claiming that Thursday’s meeting was used to «rush» through a series of other NSMC non-health issues.

«It is astonishing, following this week’s Supreme Court ruling, that (Democratic Federalist leader) Jeffrey Donaldson is overseeing a deliberate and illegal boycott of the institutions of the North and South,» she said.

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It shows not only contempt for the rule of law, but absolute contempt for the people we represent.

“It is also fundamentally dishonest – a wide range of NSMC work has been expedited by this week’s Health Sector Coordination Meeting. So what exactly is the point of this tactic? The DUP leader should at least be honest with the people instead of walking them along. Halfway up the hill.»

The NSMC is a building on the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement and is designed to enhance political cooperation on the island of Ireland. The peace agreement also includes structures to maintain and strengthen East-West relations with the island and Britain.

The DDF argues that the North-South relationship cannot continue as usual when it claims that the Northern Ireland Protocol and associated economic barriers to the Irish Sea trade have damaged East-West relations.

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