Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Is a separate Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland dead? And if so, is it the NIHRC's fault?

When the NIHRC published its report on a possible ‘Bill of Rights’ for Northern Ireland, unionists, and others, pointed out that the Commission had gone far beyond its remit in the recommendations which it outlined. Rather than framing a set of rights, required because of circumstances peculiar to Northern Ireland, the Commission preferred to outline a set of aspirational social and economic rights, none of which bore any special relevance to this region of the United Kingdom.

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.”


He continues,

“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.

8 comments:

Gary said...

Thank goodness. It was a politically motivated shambles from the beginning. I would like a Bill of Rights but one for the whole UK and everyone that lives within its borders.

Anonymous said...

We already have one: the despicable Human Rights Act: a lawyers dream!

Failing that we could just keep the Bill of Rights we presently have by that name on the Statute Book!

Although by saying the same that probably makes me beyond the pale for "decent people" in the new UUP-Tory Alliance.

Anonymous said...

We already have one: the despicable Human Rights Act: a lawyers dream!

Failing that we could just keep the Bill of Rights we presently have by that name on the Statute Book!

Although by saying the same that probably makes me beyond the pale for "decent people" in the new UUP-Tory Alliance.

Chekov said...

So pointless he said it twice. Have you not read any of the Conservatives' thoughts on the HRA etc?

Anonymous said...

A separate Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is far from dead! Polling carried out over the years suggests that 75% of people here from both communities support a Bill of Rights. Included as part of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the Bill of Rights remains one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw. Setting out a shared set of rights in a Bill of Rights could be another vital step towards bringing both communities here together. I look forward to the long-awaited public consultation, so that the people of Northern Ireland can have their say on this important issue.

Anonymous said...

What a load of rubbish. If the Bill of Rights was dead we wouldn't see the huge community support that currently exists in both unionist and nationalist communities for a Bill. There is particular support for social and economic rights not already covered in the HRA. Politically this may be a football that some politicans are happy to try and kick to death but the clear signal from the public is that we need a Bill of Rights delivered without delay.

Gary said...

The Unionist community does not support THAT Bill of Rights. The only way forward is a UK wide Bill of Rights. The McWilliams debacle is dead.

Gary said...

BTW I use "community" in the way you have. Other than that the term is as woeful as the "recommendations" from the NIHRC.