Belfast Telegraph

Stormont faces legal action over lack of anti-poverty strategy

A human rights watchdog claims a deprivation blueprint was a key element of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement

By Alan Erwin

The Stormont Executive is facing legal action over an alleged failure to develop an anti-poverty strategy for Northern Ireland.

Human rights watchdog Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) claims no proper blueprint has been adopted for dealing with deprivation.

The body was granted leave to seek a judicial review following a brief hearing at the High Court in Belfast today.

CAJ claims the Executive has not met its legal duty to introduce a strategy based on objective need.

According to the Committee's lawyers this requirement was a key element of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement which led to the restoration of the power-sharing Assembly.

In legal papers they contend that the Northern Ireland Act of that year included an obligation on the Executive to "adopt a strategy setting out how it proposes to tackle poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation based on objective need".

It is argued that the direct rule regime which operated before devolution was restored had such a plan, entitled Lifetime Opportunities. 

But CAJ alleges that the Stormont administration failed to embrace this and currently has no identifiable anti-poverty strategy.

The body cleared the first stage in its legal challenge after leave to apply for judicial review was not opposed.

A full hearing of the action is expected later in the year.

CAJ Director Brian Gormally said later: ""Stormont cannot simply overlook a key legal duty introduced as part of an international agreement which forms part of the peace process.

"It is particularly important that there is a strategy to alleviate poverty and ensure resources are targeted at those most in objective need in times when budget cuts are being imposed from London and there is the spectre of so-called welfare reform impacting on the most vulnerable in our society."

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