Victims campaigner loses legal challenge over border poll

Raymond McCord claimed the current criteria for calling a referendum on Irish unity is too vague

Victims campaigner Raymond McCord displays Irish passport together with his British passport last year. File photograph: Gerry Moriarty

Victims campaigner Raymond McCord displays Irish passport together with his British passport last year. File photograph: Gerry Moriarty

 

A victims campaigner has lost his legal battle to have the British government compelled to put in place a policy for holding a Border poll in Northern Ireland.

Lawyers for Raymond McCord claimed the current criteria for calling a referendum on Irish unity is too vague.

However, a High Court judge ruled it was a matter for the secretary of state for Northern Ireland to make a decision on the appropriate circumstances.

Sir Paul Girvan said he was “wholly unpersuaded” by any suggestion that the secretary of state should be bound by a policy on such a politically sensitive issue.

Mr McCord immediately declared his intention to mount an appeal against the verdict.

“I’m disappointed but the fight will go on,” he said outside the court. “I still strongly believe there’s a real need for a Border poll to take the fear factor out of politics here.”

Mr McCord, a staunch unionist, has been mounting separate challenges in the North and the Republic over the current arrangements for going to the public. His case against the British administration questioned the legality and transparency of the provisions for holding a border poll.

Majority

Under the 1998 Belfast Agreement a referendum can be called if the secretary of state believes a majority of people in Northern Ireland no longer want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Mr McCord, an outspoken critic of loyalist paramilitaries since a UVF gang beat his son Raymond Jr to death in 1997, is not pressing for such a poll.

However, he believes authority for calling such a significant ballot should not rest with one individual. His lawyers insisted a policy must be implemented to remove any uncertainty.

The court was told current arrangements are too broad, giving the secretary of state an unfettered discretion on the principle of consent and self-determination.

Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly also attended the case in Belfast in support of Mr McCord. He has warned that without clarity any future vote could be open to manipulation.

Dismissing the challenge, Sir Paul held there was no legal obligation on the secretary of state to have a defined policy in place.