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Sean Napier and solicitor Paul Farrell. PA

Judge reserves ruling in challenge against DUP boycott of north-south meetings

The party is not engaging in North South Ministerial Council structures as part of its protest against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

A HIGH COURT judge has reserved a ruling in a legal challenge seeking to compel the DUP to engage in setting a date for the next full meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC).

The DUP is currently boycotting cross-border political meetings as part of its protest against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Belfast businessman Sean Napier has already secured a court judgment that declared the DUP boycott as unlawful.

However, that ruling has not prompted a change in the DUP policy of non-engagement.

At a relief hearing in Belfast High Court today, Napier’s lawyers sought a further ruling compelling DUP First Minister Paul Givan to engage with Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the Irish Government to set a date and agenda for the next plenary meeting of the NSMC.

The plenary meeting was supposed to take place this month.

It cannot happen without the participation of the DUP and the party is currently not engaging in the cross-border political structures set up under the Good Friday Agreement, with the exception of meetings related to health issues.

The party contends that the Brexit Protocol and it associated barriers on Irish Sea trade have damaged east/west relations and, as such, it should not be business as usual when it comes to north-south relations.

Napier’s barrister Ronan Lavery QC told judge Justice Scoffield that his client wished to adopt an “incremental approach” in respect of seeking court intervention.

He said he was not, at this stage, seeking an order compelling DUP participation in meetings but rather an order compelling Givan to engage in scheduling a date for the next meeting and agree a joint agenda.

The issue of whether meetings have been formally scheduled has been a key aspect of the legal case, with the DUP arguing that as no specific dates have been agreed for various NSMC meetings its ministers are not technically boycotting them.

The party has contended that it is not under a legal duty to attend a meeting that has not been formally scheduled.

Lavery rejected the DUP’s scheduling defence as “not viable or lawful”, arguing that the reason no specific dates have been set for the plenary meeting is due to a refusal by Givan to engage in the processes required to schedule it and sign off its agenda.

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