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Row between Stormont and its own children's champion set for court

By Noel McAdam

The costs of a court battle between a Stormont department and one of the bodies under its control may have to come from the public purse, MLAs have been told.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) - Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness - has received a warning of possible legal action from one of its own agencies.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt revealed that the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), Koulla Yiasouma, has accused OFMDFM of ignoring its advice on outlawing age discrimination.

It is believed to be the first time a quango has threatened its own parent department with legal action.

The tussle was revealed at yesterday's meeting of the Assembly committee that monitors Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness' officials.

Mr Nesbitt, the committee chairman, called it "a quite extraordinary situation".

"This is giving rise to the possibility that taxpayers' money will have to be used for an expensive legal case between two bodies also funded by the beleaguered taxpayer," he said.

Officials admitted they have received a legal letter of complaint from NICCY, which is now being considered by the Equality Commission.

Mr Nesbitt said: "NICCY is a so-called arm's-length body, sponsored and paid for by OFMDFM.

"NICCY also has a statutory duty to advise OFMDFM on policy matters affecting children and young people, which they did on this occasion.

"Yet it appears that advice was ignored, so badly that they have issued a pre-action legal letter, embarrassingly on the basis OFMDFM has ignored its own equality scheme."

The UUP leader added: "This can all be traced back, predictably, to the inability of the DUP and Sinn Fein to agree.

"One side wanted to include under-16s in the scope of the proposed legislation, the other did not.

"The failure to agree a common position will yet again disadvantage many of those they were elected to serve."

An OFMDFM spokesperson said: "The Equality Commission is currently considering a complaint against OFMDFM by NICCY in relation to its consultation on extending age discrimination legislation to goods, facilities and services.

"Mechanisms exist for a public body to complain to the Equality Commission as part of the democratic process."

"Potentially tax payers' money will have to be used for an expensive legal case between two bodies also funded by the beleaguered tax payer" - Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.

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