In the Assembly on Monday, in response to a question from the DUP’s Trevor Clarke, the Northern Ireland Social Development Minister, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie, put forward a strong defence of her decision to cut funding to the UDA-linked CTI scheme in light of the recent High Court ruling. Focussing on the 3 of 4 parts of the ruling which addressed the stated concerns of the then NI Finance Minister and the internal legal advice from Senior Crown Counsel for Northern Ireland, Bernard McCloskey, the Minister also confirmed that she had sought “retrospective sanction” of her decision from the NI Executive but, despite public declarations of support, the
Executive parties semi-detached polit-bureau refused to do so. Whether that sanction would have given the Minister complete legal cover in court isn’t entirely clear, but it would have given her legal team a much stronger hand to play with.
Mr T Clarke: What is the Ministers assessment for the UK taxpayer after her Department lost a £300,000 legal case?
The Minister for Social Development: That is a ridiculous assertion. For the benefit of Members, let me put the record straight on that matter. First, I did not pursue any legal action. Secondly, we did not receive any bills or pay any costs. It is worth recapping on the fact that the judgement supported me on three of the four counts.
Let us look at those counts. The first was that I did not consult adequately the judge threw that out; the second was that I had already made up my mind about cutting the funding the judge threw that out; the third was that I had no right to terminate the contract over UDA behaviour the judge threw that out. Therefore, I make the point again that the court supported my position on all the substantial issues. The court found an error in procedure on the ministerial code point. I was aware of that potential procedural problem and sought the cure, that is, retrospective Executive approval of the decision. In fact, that is a routine procedure that has already been used by the DUP. However, when I asked for retrospective sanction, the Executive refused it.
I have heard some politicians, including ministerial colleagues, peddle the accusation that is being made here today, but such cheap shots diminish not only those who make them but the offices that they hold. The costs incurred in this case are far more a consequence of Executive decisions than of any action on my part.
I would also like to point out that the Independent Monitoring Commission published its latest report last week, and, yet again, it referred to UDA criminality and to the fact that there had been no decommissioning. Therefore, in the broadest sense, I was right all along. My decision was right then, and it is still right now.