Belfast Telegraph

Civil Service to appeal High Court Hightown incinerator decision

By Mark Edwards

The Northern Ireland Civil Service has announced it will appeal a High Court ruling that civil servants acted above their station in granting approval for a major incinerator on the outskirts of Belfast.

A high court judge ruled on Monday that the decision to approve the incinerator in a disused quarry at Hightown in Mallusk was "unlawful".

Mrs Justice Keegan backed claims a senior civil servant did not have legal power to approve the £240m waste disposal facility, ruling the collapse of Stormont was not "adequate justification".

The judgement had wider ramifications for government in Northern Ireland with TUV leader Jim Allister warning Secretary of State Karen Bradley that any major decisions made by senior civil servants could face legal challenge.

However, the head of Civil Service in Northern Ireland, David Sterling, said it is important the law on what decisions Departments can and cannot take in the absence of Ministers is clarified.

“Over the past 16 months, in the absence of Ministers, civil servants have been taking Departmental decisions on a number of issues so that public services can continue to be delivered as effectively as possible," he said.

“We have been very clear that significant decisions about policy and the allocation of resources should be taken by democratically-accountable Ministers.

"But, in the absence of an Executive, civil servants have had to take the unusual step of taking decisions on some issues which would normally have been brought to Ministers for decision.

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Anti-incinerator group No Arc 21 and local politicians celebrate outside the High Court in Belfast yesterday

“We have been doing this reluctantly and only after taking legal advice. And we never expected, or wanted, to have to do this other than for a very short period of time.

“Each decision has been taken on its own merits and senior officials have acted where they believed it was lawful to do so – where it was consistent with the direction of the previous Minister or necessary in the public interest that a decision be taken at the time.

“The arc21 judgment has potentially wide-ranging implications for decision-making in the ongoing absence of Ministers.

"That is why it is important we obtain greater clarity on the legal position and why it is right for the Department For Infrastructure to seek to appeal.”

A group of local residents, called NoARC21, had crowd funded their judicial review of the decision.

Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA, commenting on the appeal, said: “We agree with David Sterling that decisions should be taken by democratically-accountable Ministers.  

"It is now time for Secretary of State Karen Bradley to step in and take a grip of this.  It is totally farcical that civil servants are having to challenge a legal decision in order to provide clarity on what decisions they can make as they have been left adrift and without leadership.

“If the Secretary of State cannot provide a clear pathway that sees the devolved institutions restored with local parties at the helm, then she must move to appoint UK Government Ministers.”

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