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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 16:13 GMT
Sinn Fein loses funds court case
The Northern Bank in Belfast
Millions were taken from the vaults of the Northern Bank last December
Sinn Fein has lost a High Court battle over a decision to deny it funding due to allegations of IRA activity.

Funding was blocked between April 2004 and November 2005 following reports on levels of paramilitary activity.

Lawyers for Sinn Fein, which wanted the money repaid, said the decision was based on "unfair and unjust" reports by the Independent Monitoring Commission.

But two judges dismissed the challenge and rejected Sinn Fein accusations that IMC members had shown "apparent bias".

Because the IMC has immunity from legal action, Sinn Fein and Conor Murphy, the party's MP for Newry and Armagh, had applied for judicial review over the way the Northern Ireland Secretary relied on its recommendations to withdraw public funding.

Conor Murphy
Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said the decision was no surprise
Speaking afterwards, Mr Murphy said they were not surprised by the judgement.

He claimed Sinn Fein's legal team had unearthed documentary and other evidence which showed the commission was set up to appease unionists and those in the British system opposed to change.

"No High Court ruling can alter the fact that the IMC are unelected, are unrepresentative and operate entirely outside the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

'Without substance'

The judges had ruled there was "no real possibility" of bias and also declared that all other accusations of unfairness and illegality were "without substance".

The judges at the High Court in London ruled that Sinn Fein's application for permission to seek a judicial review had to fail because there had been too long a delay in the party launching its legal challenge.

Paul Murphy
Secretary of State Paul Murphy made the decision over funding

The court heard the IMC's first report was published in April 2004 and its 12th, and latest, appeared last October.

A lawyer representing Sinn Fein said the first report concluded that "Sinn Fein must bear its responsibility for the continuation by (the IRA) of illegal paramilitary activity".

In its third report of November 2004, the IMC concluded that the IRA had been involved in various criinal acts", and that Sinn Fein had not "sufficiently discharged its responsibility" to prevent them.

The fourth report, published in February 2005, dealt specifically with the 26m robbery at the headquarters of the Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004.

It concluded that the IRA was responsible for the robbery, as well as other robberies and abductions, but Sinn Fein should also bear responsibility and face financial sanctions.

'Financial assistance'

The lawyer representing Sinn Fein said that as a result of those reports, as well as the fifth published in May 2005 and the seventh published in October 2005, the IMC recommended that Sinn Fein should be denied public funding to which it would otherwise have been entitled under the Financial Assistance for Political Parties Scheme 2002.

On the basis of those recommendations, the Northern Ireland Secretary suspended funding between April 2004 and November 2005.

The lawyer argued that the IMC reports were fatally flawed as there had been apparent bias on the part of Lord Alderdice and John Grieve, both IMC members appointed by the UK government.

Other bias accusations were made against Joe Brosnan, appointed by the Irish Government, and Richard Kerr, a nominee of the US government.

The lawyer also argued the IMC had failed to apply any standard of proof to its decision-making process, and that had prevented it from making "fair or meaningful" assessments of the facts.

There was also a failure to inform Sinn Fein properly of the case it had to answer prior to making adverse findings.

In the judgement, the judges rejected all Sinn Fein accusations.

They pointed out that, since funding was restored on November 1 2005, subsequent IMC reports "have all supported the continuation of such financial assistance, or at least have provided no basis for withholding it again".

The Independent Monitoring Commission was set up by the British and Irish governments in January 2004 to monitor the activity of paramilitary organisations.




SEE ALSO
Sinn Fein legal review dismissed
14 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein vows to fight sanctions
20 Apr 04 |  Northern Ireland

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