Law firm to challenge NI Executive over restrictions on children's outdoor sports

A Mid Ulster legal firm has said they intend to lodge proceedings for a Judicial Review if the NI Executive do not remove restrictions on children's outdoor sport.

Lawyers have put the NI Executive on notice of legal challenge to restriction.
Lawyers have put the NI Executive on notice of legal challenge to restriction.

John J McNally & Co Solicitors in Magherafelt claimed the decision to continue a policy that prohibits children to play outdoor sports was unlawful.

Solicitor Stephen Atherton explained the review was being taken on behalf of a 15-year-old footballer from Magherafelt.

In a statement, he said: "In March of this year, the lives of our children were turned upside down. The cruel and bitter irony is however that it is not the Covid 19 virus that is harming our children, it is society’s response to the pandemic that is damaging the physical and mental health of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community.

"The decision of the NI executive on Thursday evening to continue to prohibit children to play sport outdoors, outside of a school environment, is an unconscionable continuation of a flawed and unlawful policy.

"This decision was taken without consideration of the impact on children, without publication of any evidence that children’s sport outside contributes to the spread of the virus and crucially without consultation with statutory agencies tasked with the protection of children’s rights.

"Our children have been left terrified, traumatised and stigmatised by society’s response to the pandemic, and the decision of the executive to extend the ban on participation in their sport will visit further physical and emotional harm upon them.

"For many children, they are now facing the bleak prospect of a full year without access to the sports that they love, sports that give them such welcome relief from the stress of the pandemic. They cannot be compensated for the loss of a year of their childhood.

"Children are now facing a winter constrained within their family homes, glued to TV and computer screens. The actions of the executive are a clear violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"It is now time to give our children a voice. I have today placed the NI executive on notice that, in the event that they do not immediately remove the prohibition on children’s outdoor sport, proceedings for a Judicial Review of their decision will be lodged in the High Court this week, prior to the commencement of the latest restrictions on Friday."

Mr Atherton said they have received a good deal of support from the public since news of the proceedings were posted on the firm's Facebook page.

Among those expressing support is Kenny Shiels, manager of the Northern Ireland national women's team.

He wrote: "At last someone has confronted this issue. The NI Executive see the children as easy targets, when in fact they are emotionally ripped apart. They have incredible support in all neighbourhoods, parents and families throughout have been scarred. I don't know how we can explain to the children of today the reasoning behind this. At last we have a voice. Well done Stephen let's go for it!!!"

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