Senior government officials believed spending public money on a conflict transformation scheme for loyalist areas was too great a risk to take, the High Court heard yesterday.
Lawyers for Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie also claimed “despicable paramilitary behaviour” by the UDA meant it was inevitable that she would reassess the funding package for loyalist neighbourhoods.
Ms Ritchie has been accused of acting unlawfully by axing the Conflict Transformation Initiative in October last year when the UDA failed to meet her 60-day ultimatum to end criminality and start decommissioning its weapons.
A member of staff at Farset, the independent body appointed to oversee the project, is seeking a judicial review of her decision amid allegations that she breached the ministerial code by failing to first obtain the approval of colleagues in the Stormont power-sharing Executive.
But Paul Maguire, QC, for the minister, argued that irrespective of any contract she was acting under her obligations to serve the public interest.
He pointed out how the objectives of the scheme, first drawn up by the direct rule administration, was to eliminate or at least reduce paramilitary control in loyalist areas.
Despite the potential benefits, the barrister told the court it would be an “abhorrent waste of public funds” if the paramilitaries failed to commit.
Mr Maguire said that from the outset there was far from unanimous support for the CTI project when it was first proposed by the Ulster Political Research Group which advises the UDA.
The lawyer acknowledged some good work was achieved before turning to the “outrageous” UDA-orchestrated violence in Bangor and Carrickfergus during the summer of 2007 – including shots being fired at police – which led to the minister setting the 60-day deadline.
The court heard that the UDA was given an opportunity to “mend their ways” and restore its credibility but failed to do so.