Ritchie’s legal advice…

The Belfast Telegraph has both sets of legal advice. This is their commentary on those documents in this morning’s paper. In light of Ms Ritchie’s comments last night it is important to note that the terms of reference of the official advice expressly excluded any reference to Section 75 of the Equality Act Northern Ireland Act 1998:

Senior Crown Counsel for Northern Ireland, Bernard McCloskey, warned if the Social Development Minister made a decision to withdraw funding it ” would be vulnerable to successful legal challenge” – while the independent barrister warned of difficulties but said they could be ” robustly defended”.

Brett Lockhart, QC, said, however, the question remained whether the SDLP minister “is lawfully entitled to cease funding on the basis of events to date”.

Mr McCloskey also advised the minister that the recent events in Carrickfergus, connected to the UDA, should be “disregarded” because the entire south east Antrim area does not constitute a “target area” of the CTI.

His opinion said the International Commissioning on Decommissioning had informed the minister they had “seen a document which they felt was significant” and the Ulster Political Research Group had told her ” the UDA planned to make a significant step forward on November 11 which could be jeopardised by the withdrawal of CTI funding as this would ” derail their efforts to move the UDA forward and play into the hands of those who did not support the winding down of the UDA”.

And Mr Lockhart said: “There is no evidence in my possession that suggests that Farset as an organisation are in breach of any of the funding conditions.”

In a memorandum dated October 16, Mr McCloskey said he could identify ” no freestanding statutory power to either reduce or withdraw the funding.”

Which last point would seem to bring us back to the disputed minutes.