The Director of the CAJ has reacted with predictable petulance to the government consultation on a proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. In a letter carried in today’s Belfast Telegraph, Mike Ritchie observes that the document only recommends that two rights included in the NIHRC’s advice should be implemented. The paper also published a short article containing Ritchie’s criticism on Saturday.
The letter takes the usual self-righteous tone preferred by the rights’ industry, yet it is predictably oblique in terms of detail. Because the government has rejected most of the NIHRC’s report, it implies, it must therefore be against the concept of rights altogether.
The truth is that, had the NIHRC operated within its remit and produced a credible set of rights, applicable to Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances, its advice might have been implemented. Instead, it chose simply to concoct a bundle of aspirations, attach the term ’rights’ and expect it to attain a special, untouchable status.
And groups like the CAJ cheerled this approach every step along the way!
The NIHRC and its acolytes have actually cheapened the concept of rights. And they have spectacularly missed an opportunity.
Its final report could have addressed sectarianism and issues around parity of esteem, or delivered to women in Northern Ireland a right to choose. The document actually brought the concept of human rights into disrepute in the province.
Rather than defend the dismal performance of the NIHRC, human rights organisations should be asking why the commission has failed them so spectacularly.