Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Executive breached duty over anti-poverty strategy

Belfast high court
Image caption A judge at Belfast High Court ruled that the executive had breached its duties

The Stormont Executive has breached its duties by failing to adopt an anti-poverty strategy for Northern Ireland, the High Court has ruled.

The case was taken by the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ).

The court heard that the legal duty on the Executive Committee arose out of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

The corresponding strategy was published in November 2006 under the title Lifetime Opportunities.

A judge ruled that while the executive had adopted the "architecture and principles" of Lifetime Opportunities there was no evidence it was ever crafted into a road map designed to tackle the issues of poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation.

"The Oxford English Dictionary defines a strategy as a 'plan of action designed to achieve a long term or overall aim'," the judge said.

"In adopting only the 'architecture and principles', the executive adopted something that was inchoate. There is no evidence before me that this inchoate strategy was ever finalised."

He said the duty of the executive was "to have an overarching strategy, and it is this long range plan which doesn't exist and is incapable of being made to exist by the combination of programmes and interventions.

"On the evidence presented, it is clear that there is no such strategy and for that reason I must find for the applicants."

'Very important ruling'

Following the ruling, CAJ director Brian Gormally said: "At one level this is quite a simple matter - the law said the executive had to adopt an anti-poverty strategy on the basis of objective need.

"They did not do so and can no longer pretend otherwise."

The judgement was welcomed by Sinn Féin's Jennifer McCann.

"This judgement is in line with Sinn Féin's position that a strategy needs to be put in place to tackle poverty and, crucially, that it must tackle objective need," she said.

"The obstacles blocking the adoption of an effective anti-poverty strategy must be removed immediately so this can be put in place."

SDLP assembly member Alex Attwood said it was "a very important ruling".

"The judgment confirms the legal duty on the Northern Ireland government to have an anti-poverty strategy based on objective need," he said.

"Today may also add a further dimension to the ongoing budget and welfare debate."