Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Ruling reserved in legal challenge to victims body posts

Judgement has been reserved in a High Court bid to quash the appointment of four victims commissioners in Northern Ireland.

Michelle Williamson, whose parents were killed in an IRA bomb attack, is challenging the legality of the process overseen by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Her lawyers claim political deadlock forced the former First Minister and current Deputy First Minister to pick four candidates — two from each sides of the religious divide.

It was also alleged during a judicial review hearing that the pair cloaked the procedure in secrecy, with no records kept, so that the stalemate could be hidden.

Counsel for Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness, whose Democratic Unionist and Sinn Fein parties head up the Stormont power-sharing administration, deny the allegations against them.

Barrister Paul Maguire QC yesterday went through in detail the sequence of events which led to the commissioners being selected.

He told the court how Mr Paisley and McGuinness informed officials in January 2008 that they were minded to appoint four people. This followed presentations from a pool of candidates regarded as strong enough for the job.

It was originally planned to have a single commissioner on a £65,000 a year salary to represent those bereaved during 35 years of conflict in Northern Ireland.

But after the first process was ditched it was announced that Patricia MacBride, whose brother was an IRA volunteer killed on active service, RUC widow Bertha McDougal, former broadcaster Mike Nesbitt and Brendan McAllister, director of Mediation Northern Ireland, would each be taking up the post.

Mrs Williamson, who lost her mother and father in the 1993 bomb attack on Belfast’s Shankill Road, claims that there was no legal authority to bring four people into the role.

Her legal team argued that Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness based their decision on religious beliefs or political opinion rather than merit.

During the case it was stressed how no records were kept to explain how the pair came to their decision.

Failed legal attempts were also made to have the political leaders subpoenaed and forced to answer a series of questions under oath about the selection process.

Following a three-day hearing at the High Court Mr Justice Gillen said he would deliver judgment in the case as soon as possible.

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