A High Court judge has ruled that the DUP’s boycott of North-South meetings in protest of the Northern Ireland Protocol is illegal.
Mr Schofield made the announcement in Belfast High Court after a Belfast man, Sean Napier, brought proceedings for judicial review into the legality of the DUP move.
The case centered around DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson’s announcement last month that his party would break from meetings of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) as part of their campaign against the protocol.
“Respondents’ decision to withdraw from the North South Cabinet was and remains unlawful,” Judge Scofield said.
He said the declaration had been agreed upon by the legal counsel of both the plaintiff and the defendant.
The judge continued: “Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive are required to confirm the pledge of office, which is set out as part of the Northern Ireland Executive Ministerial Act.
This includes the commitment to participate in the North South Ministerial Council and the Irish-British Council.
“It is difficult for the Court to reach any conclusion other than that the defendants have consciously decided to act in contravention of the tenure of office and ministerial law.”
He added: “It may be worth emphasizing that every minister in the Northern Ireland Executive has a personal responsibility to comply with the pledge of office and ministerial law.
“The court expects defendants to comply with their legal obligations.”
Judge Schofield said he would not take any further action at this time, but said that if there was no change in the situation, the applicant could return to court.
“The court obviously has additional powers, but in my opinion, it would be unfortunate if those powers were invoked.”
Mr. Napier’s lawyers argued that the decision to boycott the meetings frustrates the function of the government and could jeopardize peace funding.
They also argued that the policy violated constitutional arrangements under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Stormont Ministerial and Pledge Act.
Two NMSC meetings have already been canceled, and more are scheduled for later this week.
Five DUP ministers have been named as responders in the case, Chief Minister Paul Gevan, Secretary of State in the Executive Office Gary Middleton, Secretary of Education Michelle McElvin, Secretary of Agriculture Edwin Potts and Minister of Economy Gordon Lyons.
In response to the ruling, Stormont’s first minister, Paul Gevan, said the DUP “will read the judgment rendered in the courts and provide a more detailed response in a timely manner”.
“But I would like to make this point…when it comes to the work of the institutions of the North and South, my party has made it clear that we would like to see all parts of the Belfast Agreement supported,” he told the Stormont Assembly.
“But they are interconnected, interconnected, and the East-West dimension has been destroyed as a result [Northern Ireland] protocol.
“It is unfortunate that it has an impact on the institutions of the North and the South.”
Mr. Jeevan said his focus is on “the desire to solve these problems so that all parts of those organizations can function normally”.
“However, the Protocol fundamentally undermined the basis on which the Belfast Agreement was to create those various different leads,” he said.
When asked if, as a result of the ruling, he will ensure that DUP ministers attend the North-South Ministerial Council meetings in accordance with the law, he said his party is “very focused on resolving the issues that led to this impasse.”
Stormont Infrastructure Minister and SDLP Deputy Leader Nicola Mallon said the Supreme Court ruling was “significant” and “requires an immediate response from the DUP leadership”.
“The decision to suspend north-south cooperation was sporadic and ill-considered, and it has now been confirmed to be illegal,” the MLA said in north Belfast.
“It is time for the ministers involved in this boycott to take a step back and commit to fulfilling their legal obligations.”
Malone said the “politics of boycott, partition, and stalemate” had failed people in the North “for far too long.”
“We don’t need another manufactured crisis – we need ministers who are committed to doing their jobs, working with people and parties all over these islands and providing services to the people we represent.” Additional Reports PA
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