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Further challenge against Stormont Ministers who failed to have police legally compelled to remove a contentious bonfire ‘not in the public interest’, court rules

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The Adam Street bonfire in Tigers Bay, North Belfast is lit on July 12, 2021 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The Adam Street bonfire in Tigers Bay, North Belfast is lit on July 12, 2021 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The Adam Street bonfire in Tigers Bay, North Belfast is lit on July 12, 2021 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

A further challenge against Stormont Ministers who failed to have police legally compelled to remove a contentious bonfire is not in the public interest, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Senior judges held that the issues were now only of historic significance, with enough advice available to prevent future disputes at the location in north Belfast.

“There is now a road map provided for how these bonfire issues can be resolved lawfully and with minimum fuss,” Mr Justice Horner said.

The reasons were given for their decision to refuse an appeal by loyalist activist Jamie Bryson against being denied permission to mount a judicial review.

Mr Bryson expressed his hope that the outcome will bring an end to legal action by nationalist residents or Government bodies to try to remove bonfires.

He had sought a declaration that Sinn Fein’s Deirdre Hargey and former SDLP representative Nichola Mallon unlawfully acted without consent from their Executive colleagues in attempting to force the PSNI to intervene at the ‘Eleventh Night’ site in Tigers Bay.

Mr Bryson’s initial High Court application was dismissed earlier this year on the grounds that the issue was now academic.

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Ruling on his appeal against that determination, Mr Justice Horner described the original decision as “unimpeachable”.

He pointed out that the factual background, circumstances and ownership of the land at the location have since changed.

“There is now a road map provided for how these bonfire issues can be resolved lawfully and with minimum fuss,” the judge said.

“It is not in the public interest to have a judicial review that will have to be based on facts which are now of historic significance only.”

Mr Justice Horner added: “The recurring bonfire litigation has resulted in very substantial costs being incurred which will be visited directly or indirectly on the UK taxpayer.

“There should now be adequate advice from the court to provide sufficient guidance to the parties to prevent future disputes about bonfires at this location.”

Ms Hargey, the Communities Minister, and Mrs Mallon, the Infrastructure Minister at the time, took emergency legal action last summer to have the PSNI compelled to intervene at the Tigers Bay bonfire site.

At the time police had refused to step in due to concerns about potential disorder and risk to the public, including young children in the Adam Street area.

The two Ministers’ joint action was thrown out, along with similar litigation by a nationalist resident in the neighbouring New Lodge district.

Mr Bryson represented the Tigers Bay Bonfire Group as a notice party in those cases.

He then issued judicial review proceedings against the two Departments, claiming a breach of the Ministerial Code requiring full consent on significant, controversial and crosscutting issues.

Mr Bryson contended that the two ministers acted illegally and sought to have them restrained from mounting any future “solo runs”.

Reacting to the ruling, he stressed that the relevant Ministers made no submissions about the alleged breach of the Code.

“It is welcome that the Court of Appeal has strongly indicated that any future bonfire litigation is discouraged,” Mr Bryson said.

“We would hope that will bring an end to the applications either by nationalist residents or Government bodies to try to remove bonfires.”

He added: “It is clear that bonfires and by implication flags are immune from unilateral action by Ministers acting without Executive approval.”


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