A protest was held yesterday morning outside the front gates of Hillsborough Castle by a group hoping to keep open a cafe run by people with learning difficulties.
The protest took place as the Northern Ireland Office issued a statement reaffirming that charity Praxis – which runs the cafe – would have to leave before the grounds are redeveloped in a bid to increase visitor numbers.
Organiser Neil McNickle, 33, from Stop the Praxis Eviction Campaign (SPEC), said around 30 people attended yesterday’s protest “to show their anger at plans to close the cafe down”.
He said the protest was not organised by the Praxis organisation.
“The Secret Garden cafe has provided a great service to the local community,” said Mr McNickle.
“We have had an online petition which 1,700 people signed opposing the eviction and a public meeting is planned for next week.”
Seven staff and 16 people with learning difficulties currently work at the Praxis complex in the castle grounds. The charity has been told to vacate the premises within four weeks to make way for Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) to take over the running of the castle.
In a statement, a Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: “Praxis has had well over a year’s notice that they have to leave.
“The terms of its licence make it absolutely clear that they cannot be compensated when they do. They have always known this.”
It adds that the NIO and HRP have invited Praxis to take part in further discussions, and are keen to see if there is some way for its service users to remain involved at Hillsborough in the long term, under the new operating model.