Belfast woman seeks judicial review of NI civic forum ‘left to wither away’ after not sitting for 20 years despite being created under Good Friday Agreement

The Northern Ireland Civic Forum has been unlawfully allowed to ‘wither away’ since its last session 20 years ago, the High Court heard today.

The judge was told that Stormont was breaching a legal obligation to revive the advisory body created under the Good Friday Agreement.

Belfast wife Eileen Wilson is seeking judicial review of the Executive Office over the alleged failure to maintain some of the ‘constitutional architecture’.

Created in 2000 to provide views on social, economic and cultural issues, the 60-member Civic Forum was made up of representatives from sectors of society.

But it had no legislative or governmental powers and has not met since 2002.

Ms Wilson, who is also involved in a separate challenge to hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland, wants a court declaration that the non-reinstatement of the Civic Forum is unlawful.

The court heard the mother-of-six had been seeking a neurology appointment for five years over her suspected multiple sclerosis and was frustrated by a potential opportunity to have her views heard through the advisory body.

Barrister Ronan Lavery KC argued that Parliament never intended to allow him to be forgotten or consigned to the history books.

“It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that the Civic Forum is in place within the framework of the constitutional architecture,” he insisted.

“It was (supposed to be) an ongoing engagement with civil society, and there will be until the law is changed.

“That’s the settlement of the Good Friday/Belfast deal, and it’s very important that it’s not just left to wither or be neglected.”

Tony McGleenan KC, for the executive office, argued he was being wrongly targeted as a “surrogate” in the absence of a properly functioning power-sharing administration.

He also challenged both Ms. Wilson’s legal standing and the merits of her recusal.

Any legal obligation was fulfilled once the body was established, the court said.

“Subsequently, through a sequence of agreements and negotiations, it is clear that there has been no political appetite to reinstate the Civic Forum in the same incarnation as originally established in 2000,” said said Mr. McGleenan.

“But there has been (a reflection) on whether or not an alternative version can be put in place.”

Reserving his judgment, Judge Scoffield undertook to rule on the dispute as soon as possible.

Outside court, Ms Wilson’s solicitor, Ciaran O’Hare of McIvor Farrell, said: “My client argues that the Civic Forum should exist and in tandem with the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. “