Belfast Telegraph

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness clash again blaming each other over delayed response to judge

By Adrian Rutherford and Liam Clarke

A row has erupted over who is responsible for blocking a letter from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to Northern Ireland's top judge - with the DUP and Sinn Fein blaming each other for the impasse.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan wrote to the leaders earlier this year after Health Minister Edwin Poots questioned the independence of the judiciary during an Assembly debate.

However, eight months after the letter was sent, Sir Declan has yet to receive a substantive reply.

Yesterday, Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane indicated Mr McGuinness was supportive of Sir Declan's remarks, but Mr Robinson had refused to agree to a letter criticising a DUP minister. However, Mr Robinson dismissed that claim, insisting a letter had been drafted – in which they said that calling into question the fairness of the judiciary was a different matter from fair criticism – but Mr McGuinness wouldn't sign it off. Meanwhile, Mr Poots was refusing to back down over the remarks. Last year a judge ruled his decision not to lift a ban on gay men donating blood was irrational.

The DUP minister strongly criticised the ruling, saying he believed the judge was wrong. Mr Poots openly questioned whether he would get a fair hearing.

Sir Declan referred to the matter in an address to senior judicial figures on Friday.

Letters sent by OFMDFM require the approval of both Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness. It is understood the delay is because the pair cannot agree on what to say to Sir Declan.

Yesterday Sinn Fein said Mr Robinson was at fault. However, Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph: "There has only been one letter drafted in OFMDFM and that was by us.

"It was a letter which first of all recognised the importance of the independence of the judiciary and secondly the necessity for all of us to be supportive of the rule of law.

"It recognised the distinction that needs to be made between the natural tensions that can surface from time to time when individual decisions of the judiciary may well be commented upon by members.

"It is legitimate for them to do that but to call into question the fairness of the judiciary is a different matter.

"We point that out in our draft letter which I was ready to sign but which has never come back from the deputy First Minister's office."

In the Assembly yesterday, Mr McGuinness said: "My sympathy is totally and absolutely with Sir Declan Morgan. We are involved in discussions at the moment in an effort to get an agreed response to what Sir Declan said."

Quote

"Will I appeal it (the court ruling on blood donation)? I am very reluctant to appeal it (because) it gives the larger parties in the Executive more power; it refers a lot of governance back to the national Parliament; and do I believe that I would get fairness in the Court of Appeal or would there be a circling of the wagons?

– Edwin Poots, November 5, 2013

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