Friday, 4 January 2008

Why scepticism about a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights is justified

I have been following with a degree of interest the debate which has sprung up about the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland following an editorial in the Church of Ireland Gazette opposing the introduction of such a bill. The controversy about whether a church newspaper should have been commenting on the issue does not particularly interest me. I am more concerned with the substance of the arguments about the bill.

Basic human rights are already enshrined in European and domestic law, so in actuality the proposal is to prepare a special set of rights specific to Northern Ireland. Inevitably any bill which became law would result in a deluge of court proceedings as lawyers test the strictures of the new legislation and a corpus of case law establishes itself.

Given an increased tendency to frame every issue in terms of rights and in particular the republican movement’s propensity to forward this agenda, there are justifiably those who remain unconvinced of the need for a bill. The Good Friday Agreement established the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to consider whether there were special circumstances here which justified enshrining rights, greater than those afforded by the European Convention of Human Rights, in Westminster legislation. The Bill of Rights Northern Ireland website lists the areas in which legislation may be required as follows: “equality; education; language; cultural expression and identity; victims' rights; social and economic rights; criminal justice and implementation”.

This is a broad brush approach which wanders far from the established remits of human rights. Human rights are about the fundamental and universal freedoms of expression and freedoms from inequity which we should all enjoy. The remits suggested for this legislation encroach substantially on existing areas of law and threaten to fundamentally alter constitutional law in this part of the United Kingdom.

I do not accept that Northern Ireland is in need of human rights legislation above and beyond that of the rest of the United Kingdom. If another bill was introduced in the Kingdom as a whole (further to the existing Human Rights Act), to clarify or extend existing rights, I would expect that bill to cover Northern Ireland. But to suggest that there should be greater protection of rights in one section of a state is nonsense. If a bill is first brought in for Northern Ireland, there should be immediate scrutiny of the need to extend similar legislation throughout the UK.

There is a need in republican circles to justify their thirty year campaign of sectarian murder, by reference to a spurious rights based argument. The actuality is that the aims of the civil rights movement were realised by 1971 and yet the campaign of terror intensified only after these rights were given. Presenting such validation to republicans should not be a priority when initiating new legislation.

The other concern is the invocation of rights based arguments in all manner of inappropriate spheres which already pertains. We have had invoked in recent times such imbecilic “rights” as the right to fill in your car tax application in Irish, the right to play for an international football team and indeed the right to wear hair long at school. This maximalist approach not only makes a nonsense of the concept of fundamental human rights, it also ensures that even a carefully drafted bill will precipitate an avalanche of expensive and unnecessary litigation. The nebulous nature of most rights precludes the likelihood that such careful drafting will take place.

We have also witnessed the sophistic conflation of rights to hold or express a perceived identity or culture with political manifestations of that identity or culture. Irish nationalism clearly wishes to pursue this disingenuous line of thinking to undermine gradually the sovereignty and institutions of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland. This dishonesty belies a supposed acceptance of the principle of consent.


beano said...

What he said.

Hernandez said...

"We have also witnessed the sophistic conflation of rights to hold or express a perceived identity or culture with political manifestations of that identity or culture"

I had to re-read that sentence a few times!

Seriously though - what you say is spot on.

Dinamo said...

Of course such legislation is a scandalous waste of public funds and achieves nothing for individual rights. And communists like me are painted as part of teh problem by the GREAT and the GOOD(in which there is a properous career to be forged in NI). Oh Dinamo people say "How can you be against Human Rights?" Grr.

Safiya Outlines said...

Very well put, especially as the right to life, one sadly denied victims of terrorism, surely is more important than the right to M.O.P.Ery.

Dinamo said...

Quite right. All the funds are wasted. Spend the money on reducing trolleys in our hospital corridors.