Campaign against Praxis eviction picking up speed

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A campaign to stave off

Praxis Care’s eviction from

Hillsborough Castle is picking up speed, with the public weighing in behind a petition and politicians lining up to

lend support.

The petition, which at last report numbered more than 1,000 signatures, is to be handed in after a planned public protest at Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday, March 12.

The Northern Ireland Office gave Praxis use of a corner of the Hillsborough estate, where it operates a coffee shop and market garden employing 16 people with learning difficulties.

However, with ownership of the castle transferring to Historic Royal Palaces, the NIO - in what one political activist called “a kick in the teeth” - has served the mental health charity with notice to leave.

Since taking up residence on site, Praxis has ploughed more than £400,000 into its ‘Secret Garden’ at the castle.

DUP Lagan Valley MLA and Health Minister Edwin Poots met in Hillsborough on Friday with Praxis’ chief Executive and Director of Care and is seeking a meeting with Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers to discuss the situation.

“My Department’s current policy is to promote the improvement of daytime support activities for people with a learning disability across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“This includes a significant move towards providing people with a learning disability with opportunities to avail of employment, training, education, leisure, community and voluntary activities in their local community.

“The Secret Garden provides a very important person-centred environment together with a range of opportunities for adults with learning disabilities to acquire the skills necessary to secure employment and to help them to reach their own personal potential.”

Mr Poots conceded the siutation was “complex” but insisted he was keen to seek a minimum impact solution for those working at the Hillsborough site.

Meanwhile, public support too, is mounting, with more than 100 people signing the petition in a single evening, according to local government election candidate Alexander Redpath.

“This is a testament to the fine work carried out by Praxis Care,” he said. “Local people think it is extremely unfair that Praxis Care has been asked to leave despite the fact that they are a well-established part of the Hillsborough community.

“Local people don’t understand why Historic Royal Palaces cannot work together with Praxis Care on the same site.

“There is particular anger that no alternative site or compensation has been offered to Praxis Care, especially as they have made an enormous financial investment in their current site.”

Ulster Unionist canididate in Hillsborough, Mr Redpath urged residents to support the petition as it travelled door to door, or to sign online. “It’s terrific that all local political parties are getting behind this campaign,” he said.

“However, I think it’s extremely important for local representatives to mobilise support on the ground.”

Another to suggest Praxis should at least be offered help in securing an alternative site was Conservative Party member and veteran political activist John Lund.

Mr Lund praised the good work of the charity and claimed any decision to remove them was “completely unnecessary”.

“This is a real kick in the teeth for them,” he said. “The government should hang their heads in shame.”