FIFTY CIVIL SOCIETY ORGS CHALLENGE RIGHTS FAILURE
December 10, 2021
Over 50 civil society organisations from across Northern Ireland have written to the First and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to challenge the circumstances which led to the recent suspension of the Ad-Hoc committee on a Bill of Rights at Stormont and called on the UK and Irish Governments to intervene to progress a Bill of Rights. In a letter sent on the 10th December, International Human Rights Day, a wide range of civil society organisations expressed grave concern at the blockage on progress at the Committee and called for action by the UK and Irish Government to end the political veto on human rights in Northern Ireland.
Kevin Hanratty, Director of the Human Rights Consortium, said:
“Civil society orgs were supportive of the Committees work and were delighted to see the range and depth of evidence that was being provided from all sections of our society and domestic and international experts to evidence that a substantive and impactful Bill of Rights was not just achievable but was indeed more necessary than ever given the range of challenges and inequalities people are facing in Northern Ireland.
“It is totally unacceptable that we do not have a Bill of Rights 23 years after it was first provided for in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and it is intolerable for the notion of political consensus to be continually used as a political veto on much needed human rights protections for all sections of our community. The UK and Irish Governments need to urgently intervene and progress a Bill of Rights via Westminster legislation.”
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, said:
“Unfortunately, the Assembly committee process has been hobbled from the start by the Executive Office’s failure to appoint expert advisors. But that failure in no way negates the need for the Bill of Rights, which is needed more than ever to help us build back from Covid. The UK Government, with the Irish Government’s support, should now bring forward legislation based on advice from the Human Rights Commission, to enact the Bill of Rights.”
The Ad-Hoc Committee which was set up to progress work towards a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is comprised of MLAs from the five main political parties in Northern Ireland. It began work in March 2020 after being included as a commitment in the New Decade, New Approach agreement brokered by the British and Irish Governments to restore the Assembly. The terms of reference for the committee were to consider the creation of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland – a long outstanding commitment from the Belfast /Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
At a 25th November sitting of the committee, it was revealed that a DUP submission to the process exposed that in contrast to the other parties represented they did not believe that there should be a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and that the process should instead look at developing a set of values and principles. Following this revelation and the continued failure to appoint a Panel of Experts to support the work of the Committee the chairperson and other members of the Committee agreed to suspend its work.
The full text of the civil society letter can be downloaded below.Tags: Bill of Rights, civil society, Stormont, veto