Poots steps into Hillsborough Secret Garden row

Hillsborough Castle
Hillsborough Castle

Health Minister Edwin Poots has called for a meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to discuss the future of the independently-run Secret Garden at Hillsborough Castle.

Praxis Care, who run the coffee shop facility where 16 people with learning difficulties are employed, have been told by the NIO they must leave the premises.

“The Secret Garden provides a very important person-centred environment together with a range of opportunities for adults with learning disabilities to acquire the skills necessary to secure employment and to help them to reach their own personal potential,” Mr Poots said.

The minister added that he agreed to meet with Praxis representatives later this week.

Last night an NIO spokesman said he “deeply regrets” the “misinformation being circulated” about their relationship with Praxis Care.

He said the NIO appreciated the work done by Praxis in recent years, and “the NIO provided Praxis with very generous terms over several years, including an annual rent of just £1 and significant additional financial assistance.

“However, this arrangement was never open ended. This was always made clear to Praxis and was understood by them.”

He said Praxis Care was given one month’s notice in March 2013 and an offer of help to find alternative accommodation, but that “the NIO’s reduced budget meant it was not possible to provide further financial support”.

He added the NIO is still flexible “about the timescale for Praxis leaving the Walled Garden” and welcomed dialogue as soon as possible.