Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sotamayor and Trimble - hewn from the same stone?

It is interesting to read Burke’s Corner’s piece about Sonia Sotamayor, Barack Obama’s nominee for the US Supreme Court, in conjunction with the ‘dissenting note’ which Northern Ireland Human Rights’ Commissioner, Lady Trimble, submitted to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs (H/T O’Neill).

The article about Sotamayor emphasises the liberal inclination to rely on ‘judicial activism’ to affect social and economic policy, rather than seeking change through normal legislative process. Obama’s nominee, in the past, has eschewed that approach, and her appointment, whilst disappointing some liberals, would be healthy both for politics and democracy in the US.

Although the NIHRC has sought to affect legislation in Northern Ireland, by ignoring the terms of reference set down in the Belfast Agreement, it also seeks, by stealth, to smuggle a package of economic and social policy through a Bill of Rights, for which there is no political consensus. And furthermore, it aspires to establish a framework whereby activist judges can determine law which properly should be determined by the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In an article in today’s Irish Times, Monica McWilliams defends her commission’s proposals and once again invokes the Good Friday Agreement in order to imbue the recommendations, as it were, with immortal powers. But the pertinent, damning evidence against her work is in the Agreement itself. Sotamayor, the lawyer, refuses to read ‘additional rights’ into the US constitution and Trimble, with her legal background, refuses to read additional terms of reference into the Belfast Agreement.

“The Commission proposes an 'all inclusive' Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. It seems to me that such proposal simply ignores the terms of reference in the Agreement which says that the rights proposed to be in any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland under the Agreement and which are not already contained in the ECHR must (inter alia) 'reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, and - taken together with the ECHR - to constitute a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.'.”

Lady Trimble is defending the primacy of elected politicians against attempts to circumvent the processes of democracy. She is protecting the integrity of the Agreement and the safeguards for consensus which were built into it. Fortunately her view is in keeping with the instincts of the British government and its likely successor at Westminster.


Ciarán said...

Where's the stealth Chekov? A list of "areas where new rights may be required" are listed on their website.

Chekov said...

The stealth, Ciarán, is not so much in hiding the proposed content of the Bill, as in ignoring the remit and using it as a means to package a range of aspirations as part of an 'invincible' part of the GFA!

Ciarán said...

Hmmm. I guess we have different definitions of 'stealth'!

Anonymous said...

I understand that Daphne's 'dissenting note' was actually largely penned by a UUP policy wonk.

So much for being an independent commissioner as opposed to a party political stooge.

Chekov said...

Ciarán - I'm using 'stealth' merely to emphasise the disingenuous use of a 'cloak of invincibility' to adorn a set of policies which do not deserve the description 'rights'. The stealth is in the means, not the content.

If we're in dispute about definitions the rights lobby should look up the word inalienable.