Thursday, 10 September 2009

Rights body a dismal, dishonest failure

Opponents of the NIHRC’s project to implement its recommendations for a Bill of Rights can be assured that its efforts are going nowhere. Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, has already observed that the commission exceeded its remit and that it produced an untenable report. The Conservative party has put on record its scepticism about the need for legislation exclusive to Northern Ireland. If it forms the next government, it favours including any rights which might be specifically relevant in a UK wide Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

On the issue of a Northern Ireland bill, reason is winning. Which is perhaps why Monica McWilliams, whose £70,000 per annum salary is dependent on the tax payer, is growing increasingly shrill. David Cameron might be intent on subjecting members of parliament to a pay cut, but public money is better spent paying representatives, mandated by the electorate and required to work on behalf of their constituents, rather than funding a quango which operates as a quasi-political pressure group.

All of which contributes to the frustration that David Adams, amongst others, feels when the Chief Commissioner continues to peddle blatant falsehoods in order to advance the NIHRC’s agenda. The journalist has written an excellent piece in the Irish Times entitled ‘You expect more from a Human Rights body’ and he displays a palpable sense of exasperation at the incorrigible nature of a commission which is, after all, effectively composed of public servants.

You would indeed expect more from a human rights’ body, but more pertinently you are entitled to expect honest discourse from a commission which is funded by the state. Monica McWilliams is intent on acting like the head of a particularly obstreperous NGO, rather than an employee of the tax payer, tasked by the government with the discharge of a set of designated duties.

Adams is quite correct to point out that the Belfast Agreement neither decreed that there should be a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, nor did it express a preference for one. Many interpretations have been attributed to a document famous for its ‘constructive ambiguity’, but the idea that it prescribed special rights legislation for Northern Ireland is among the most fallacious. It merely established a commission charged with investigating the issue and in so doing, regrettably, provided McWilliams with a job.

Even if the NIHRC had been assigned the task of drafting a mandatory bill the inclusion of social and economic aspirations, which are properly the prerogative of elected politicians, would have fallen outside its remit. All the relevant issues which actually are specific to Northern Ireland, rights surrounding abortion, freedom of Assembly, sectarianism and so forth, the commission blithely ignored. It has been a dismal failure and it has actually strengthened the case that any special rights provision for this region can be appended to a UK wide act.

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