Praxis Care’s Secret Garden in Hillsborough has won the unanimous backing of the Northern Ireland Assembly in its battle to escape eviction.
The mental health charity was served notice to quit its market garden and coffee shop at Hillsborough Castle as Historic Royal Palaces took over management of the site from the Northern Ireland Office.
Campaigners have since called for the Secret Garden to be incorporated in Historic Royal Palace’s ambitious plans for the Castle and its grounds, or, failing that, compensated for past investment and aided in relocation. Now, the Assembly has weighed in behind Praxis, unanimously backing a motion introduced by Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann.
The motion read: “This Assembly acknowledges and commends the work carried out by Praxis Care, asserts that the transfer of the publicly owned assets at Hillsborough Castle should be conditional on securing the future of Praxis at this location and calls on the Secretary of State to explore all possible avenues to ensure that the employment provided and the work carried out by Praxis at Hillsborough Castle remain on site.”
Leading local campaigner, Councillor Alexander Redpath, welcomed the move and what he called a subsequent “softening” in the Northern Ireland Office’s tone in respect of the matter.
“I welcome this motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly and believe it represents a key step forward in our campaign to keep Praxis Care at Hillsborough Castle,” he said.
“ It follows on from Lisburn City Council’s expression of support which was delivered some months ago and we can now say that politicians, both locally and regionally, are firmly behind Praxis Care.
“I am disappointed that this motion wasn’t brought by a Lagan Valley MLA.
“However, I commend the Lagan Valley members who spoke in the debate and showed their support for the motion.
“The Northern Ireland Office has responded to the motion with a press statement which employs a very different tone to their previous statements.
“There has been a significant softening of tone in the NIO statement which is very welcome.
“I believe this is a result of the negotiations currently ongoing between Praxis Care and Historic Royal Palaces regarding Praxis Care’s future role on the site.”
The Ulster Unionist councillor was particularly keen to welcome SDLP support for the motion.
“SDLP Minister Mark Durkan’s department is currently planning to hand over Hillsborough Courthouse and Fort to Historic Royal Palaces,” he said.
“ This hand-over provides a local party with leverage over Historic Royal Palaces which I believe should be used in support of Praxis Care.”