But the DUP has responded to the court judgment by stating that it provided “further proof” that the conditions to trigger Article 16 of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol have been met.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson announced last month that his party would disengage from North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meetings as part of their campaign of opposition to the protocol.
It is time for ministers involved in this boycott to take a step back and commit to upholding their legal obligations
But at Belfast High Court on Monday, Mr Justice Scoffield said the decision to withdraw from the NSMC is unlawful.
He added: “It frustrates, is contrary to and is in breach of legal duties contained in part five of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”
SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said ministers must live up to their obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.
She added: “The ruling from the High Court is significant and it demands an immediate response from the DUP leadership. The decision to suspend north-south cooperation was intemperate, ill-considered and has now been confirmed as unlawful.
“It is time for ministers involved in this boycott to take a step back and commit to upholding their legal obligations.”
High court has ruled that DUP boycott of North-South Ministerial Council was, and is, unlawful. Ministers need to do their jobs, act within the law, and stop impeding progress. NSMC is due to agree €1bn PeacePlus funding this month. This cannot be jeopardised by DUP play acting.
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) October 11, 2021
Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “High court has ruled that DUP boycott of North-South Ministerial Council was, and is, unlawful.
“Ministers need to do their jobs, act within the law, and stop impeding progress. NSMC is due to agree 1bn euro PeacePlus funding this month. This cannot be jeopardised by DUP playacting.”
In response to the court ruling, a DUP spokesman said: “The High Court judgment is further proof that the conditions to trigger Article 16 have been met.
“If an early resolution between the UK and EU cannot be achieved, we call upon the UK Government to invoke the terms of Article 16 to avoid a further deterioration in political and economic stability in Northern Ireland.”
Five DUP ministers were named as respondents in the court case, First Minister Paul Givan, junior minister at the Executive Office Gary Middleton, Education Minister Michelle McIlveen, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and Economy Minister Gordon Lyons.
Mr Givan was asked about the court ruling during ministerial question time at Stormont.
He said: “Obviously, we will read through the judgment that has been passed in the courts.
“Whenever it comes to the working of the north-south institutions my party has made clear we do wish to see all of the parts of the Belfast Agreement upheld, but they are inter-dependent, they are inter-linked and the east-west dimension has been trashed as a result of the protocol.”
Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said he hoped the DUP would now reconsider their non-attendance at north-south meetings.
He said: “Now the High Court has made this ruling, there must be consequences for the DUP’s actions, including sanctions if appropriate.
“However, I hope this will now lead the DUP to reconsider their move.
“It is vital the institutions are allowed to function and not be subjected to repeated threats.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said the DUP had been left with a choice of facilitating the protocol, or resigning.
He added: “The union dismantling protocol partitions the UK and treats Great Britain as a third country.
“If one is a unionist and can only be a minister if you are party to that trashing the only honourable course is to resign.”