NIO 'regrets' legal action to evict Praxis Care mental health charity from Queen's residence at Hillsborough Castle
The Northern Ireland Office has said it regrets having to take a mental health charity to court to forcibly evict it from the grounds of Hillsborough Castle.
Praxis Care has run the Secret Garden cafe in the grounds of the 96-acre estate for almost a decade in an initiative set up by former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam.
Some 16 young people with learning disabilities work at the cafe and connected market garden.
However, the NIO says it now needs the local charity to leave in order to make way for Historic Royal Palaces to transform the castle into a major visitor attraction.
Agreement has not been reached over when Praxis will leave and so the NIO has now taken legal action to remove the Secret Garden Cafe.
The case will be heard at Belfast High Court tomorrow morning.
"Since, despite a generous allowance of time by the NIO and HRP, Praxis Care have failed to leave the Walled Garden, it is now regrettably necessary to have the matter of occupation resolved in court," a spokeswoman said, pointing out that Praxis was given very generous terms during its stay.
"Praxis Care does good work, including at Hillsborough Castle. We are pleased that we have been able to do so much to support them, not least by providing them with the use of the Walled Garden at Hillsborough at little or no charge for over 10 years."
She added: "But this arrangement was never intended to be open-ended and unfortunately it is not possible for Praxis to stay any longer.
"Historic Royal Palaces' vision for the castle and its grounds will mean greatly increased visitor numbers and a commensurate boost to the economy.
"But this vision can only be realised if significant changes are made to the grounds.
"This includes the space currently occupied by Praxis, which will need to be overhauled as part of new access/parking/reception infrastructure.
"So it is simply not possible to have both the HRP project and continued use by Praxis of the Walled Garden."
The NIO added that Praxis was originally asked to leave in August 2012.
A spokesman for Praxis told the Belfast Telegraph that its main concern was the 16 young people with learning disabilities who work in the cafe.
"Despite the refusal of the NIO to engage with Praxis Care and the fact that the NIO has now instigated legal action, we continue to be hopeful that a resolution can be found," he said.