Sinn Fein member behind Brexit border checks legal challenge to remain anonymous

Border checks have to take place at Northern Ireland ports as part of the Brexit agreement.

A Sinn Fein member challenging DUP Minister Edwin Poots’ decision to order a halt on Irish Sea border checks is to remain anonymous amid a real risk he would be exposed to violence, the High Court has ruled.

Rejecting an attempt to have the reporting restriction lifted, a judge pointed to a highly charged background of protests against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Justice Colton said: “I am satisfied that he is someone who has been targeted by loyalist paramilitaries in the past and his fears that such targeting might continue were his name to become public is real.”

Mr Poots is facing legal action over instructing his officials last month to stop the post-Brexit checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

The step taken by the Stormont Agriculture Minister came amid continued DUP opposition to the Protocol due to claims it threatens the region’s status within the UK.  

Mr Justice Colton has already ordered a suspension of the directions issued by Mr Poots pending the outcome of two separate challenges to the legality of his decision.

One of the applications for judicial review is being taken by an unnamed member of Sinn Fein – a man in his seventies said to be in poor health.

He secured anonymity after his lawyers contended that the need for open justice was outweighed by possible repercussions for his safety in a case involving highly contentious issues which have already sparked angry protests and rioting.

In an affidavit the man said in the past he has received death threats from loyalists and endured attacks on his home.

But a journalist attempted to have the anonymity order removed, arguing that fears of violence towards the applicant were “overcooked”.

Adam Kula, a reporter with the Belfast News Letter, insisted that another senior DUP politician’s reference to a “guerrilla warfare” fight against the Protocol were wrongly portrayed.

He told the court reliance had been placed on remarks attributed to East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, who subsequently clarified he was speaking metaphorically and is on the record as a staunch opponent of loyalist paramilitarism.

With Mr Kula contending that no current direct threat against the man has been identified, it was suggested that he may have issued proceedings on behalf of or as a proxy for Sinn Fein.

Counsel for the applicant stressed, however, that he brought the case as a private citizen who has never been an elected representative.

Backing the decision to grant him anonymity, the judge held that the principle of open justice must yield to the man’s Article 2 right to life protected under European law.

“I am satisfied that on the applicant’s evidence if he is named there is a real risk of him being exposed to violence, threats of violence and other criminal acts,” Mr Justice Colton said.

“This is because of the highly charged background to the protests against the Protocol, which have unfortunately resulted in acts of violence and threats of violence.”

Anonymity is not being granted to the man because he is a member of Sinn Fein, the judge stressed.

He added: “The publication of the applicant’s name will not add anything to a proper understanding of these proceedings or the issues involved.”

A solicitor for the Sinn Fein member described the ruling as a vindication of the reasons for wanting his identity shielded.

Ciaran O’Hare of McIvor Farrell said: “His concerns surrounding identity are neither trivial nor fanciful. 

“The court is also satisfied that my client’s anonymity will not prevent the public from considering the important systemic legal arguments in play.”

Meanwhile, the main challenge to Mr Poots’s decision has been put back to a new hearing date in May.