Now, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward, has confirmed to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that the NIHRC went “well beyond the brief they were given”. Indeed, whilst he refuses to explicitly criticise the document, he additionally refers to it as ‘unwieldy’, strongly implies that it might lead, if implemented, to cases in European Courts, pursued by litigants in the rest of the United Kingdom, demanding equal treatment with Northern Ireland, and admits that consultation on a Bill of Rights has been delayed because of the document’s failings.
None of which will surprise those who insisted, from the moment it was published, that the Commission had produced a flawed, unworkable and unacceptable report. It contains eighty new rights and requirements and Woodward acknowledges,
“Some of them are about wanting to get a statutory right to the highest standards of physical and mental health. On the one hand, who in this Committee could possibly disagree with that? But I am not quite sure that it actually sets Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the United Kingdom, and in so far as it does it raises a whole set of issues about how actually you would implement it without implementing it across the whole of the United Kingdom because it would just be a matter of nanoseconds before we were dealing with the European Human Courts and so on.”
“in bringing forward 80 new statutory rights, many of which go well beyond any proposals in either the Joint Declaration or the Good Friday Agreement, we have a problem on our hands because the reconciliation - even if we were minded to accept every single one of them - would produce a major piece of legislation that would preoccupy huge amounts of time in a timetable for which there currently is not that sort of slot.”
Woodward commits only to consulting Northern Ireland’s parties on the document, as well as taking into consideration comments from the NI affairs Committee itself. The Conservatives have already indicated that they find the NIHRC’s recommendations entirely unacceptable. It’s beginning to look as if the entire process was an expensive waste of time.
The Commission should have stuck to its remit.