Northern Ireland

Stormont ministers in High Court

stormont
Image caption The judge ruled that Ms O'Neill broke the ministerial code

A DUP minister has won a High Court battle with a Sinn Fein executive colleague.

The finance minister Simon Hamilton blocked a move by agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill to reallocate over £100m in European funding.

Ms O'Neill took the decision without securing executive approval for the plans.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan ruled that by doing so Ms O'Neill broke the ministerial code.

The money was to be switched from a pot for direct payments to farmers to schemes said to be favoured more by environmentalists.

In an unprecedented move, Mr Hamilton began legal action when Ms O'Neill announced her intention to redirect £114m in EU funding due over the next six years.

Ms O'Neill's legal team claimed that the finance minister has no role to play in how Ms O'Neill allocated EU funding.

During the all-day hearing, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said it was "a case about political failure".

He added: "It's clear there was a strong difference of opinion between the farming community and environmentalists over how that decision was to be made.

"I conclude this matter should have been brought to the attention of the Executive Committee, and that the minister made the decision consequently in breach of the ministerial code.

"These findings are sufficient for me to conclude that she had no authority to make the decision and in those circumstances I'm prepared to quash the decision."