Praxis mental health charity's cafe to be torn down in a revamp of Hillsborough Castle
A cafe run by a mental health charity at Hillsborough Castle will be demolished to make way for refurbishment work, it has emerged.
Praxis has been running the Secret Garden cafe in the grounds of the castle for around 10 years.
The cafe and garden provides employment for seven staff and 16 people with learning difficulties.
But the charity has been asked to leave to make way for Historic Royal Palaces to transform Hillsborough Castle into a major tourist attraction.
It emerged yesterday that the current site of the Praxis cafe will be bulldozed under plans to create a new entrance for visitors.
Praxis has invested £400,000 into its facilities over the last 10 years and asked the Northern Ireland Office for compensation to help it relocate.
Yesterday Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said Praxis will not receive compensation.
"Praxis always knew the arrangement was not open-ended," she said.
"They always knew the government did not agree to pay compensation.
"The reality is Praxis always knew the terms for which they were allowed to use Hillsborough Castle.
"It's simply not possible to provide them with additional funding in this instance," she said.
Ms Villiers is expected to meet with Praxis tomorrow.
There has been a furious response to the eviction of Praxis, with over 1,000 signing an online petition calling for the charity to be allowed to stay.
A protest in support of the cafe is planned to take place at the gates of Hillsborough Castle next Wednesday.
A number of politicians from across the political divide have expressed concern at the situation including Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.
Mr McGuinness described the decision to evict Praxis as "insensitive and shameful".
"It should be reversed or properly compensated," he added.
Last week, Lisburn City Council added its support to Praxis.
Ulster Unionist councillor Alexander Redpath said he feels "extremely disappointed with the Secretary of State's position".
"Last week Lisburn City Council voted unanimously to call upon the Secretary of State to change her stance on this issue. Given that Praxis Care has invested over £400,000 in the site since they took up occupation compensation in the region of £25,000 doesn't seem much to ask," he said.
"I urge the Secretary of State to abandon this heartless position and provide appropriate support to Praxis Care," he added.
STORY SO FAR
Praxis has been running the Secret Garden cafe in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle for around a decade. Under a special arrangement set up by former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, they pay a peppercorn rent to the Northern Ireland Office. They spent £400,000 to create a cafe and garden. But now the NIO has told them they must vacate the site.