Government betrays Good Friday Agreement on Bill of Rights
April 6, 2023
The failure of the UK Government to implement a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is a betrayal of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, according to civil society organisations in Northern Ireland.
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Agreement, the Human Rights Consortium and 61 other civil society organisations from across Northern Ireland have written to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calling for implementation of the human rights pledges made in the Agreement.
The Consortium, a coalition of civil society organisations from all communities across Northern Ireland, says that despite overwhelming public support, a Bill of Rights remains the main commitment in the Agreement that is yet to be implemented.
Consortium Director Kevin Hanratty said: “It is a disgrace that 25 years after the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland are still waiting on one of the main human rights commitments of that deal. A Bill of Rights could ensure additional protections for people across a range of rights such as adequate healthcare, access to education and decent housing. It is time for the UK Government to fulfil its commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.”
The Government has insisted on all-party consensus for this issue, though this was never specified in the Agreement. A report by the Stormont Ad-Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights in February 2022 revealed that four out of the five parties – the SDLP, UUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance – supported it.
A public survey, commissioned by the Assembly in March 2021, showed 80% of the population supported a Bill of Rights. Joint polling by the Consortium, Queen’s University and Ulster University also revealed widespread support.
In their letter to the three leaders (available below), the civil society organisations stated: “This political support for a Bill of Rights is reflected in overwhelming public support across all sections of society in Northern Ireland. Despite this the UK Government has continually insisted on political consensus among Northern Ireland parties, despite this never being a condition of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. This has effectively acted as a veto on the delivery of this commitment. If this same pre-condition had been applied to other aspects of the Agreement, it would have meant that important developments like the reform of policing services would have never been delivered.
The letter continued: “The signatories to the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement committed themselves to ‘the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.’ The lack of progress on the Bill of Rights and the threat to diminish existing rights is a betrayal of those values and a failure to fulfil the promises made 25 years ago.”
The Consortium, which runs the Make Our Future Fair campaign, has also enlisted support from 40 UK-wide civil society organisations.
The campaign explains that a Bill of Rights is needed for countless reasons including to help protect the most vulnerable members of society and to improve the quality of life for all people. It explains that a Bill of Rights could also insulate Northern Ireland from attempts at regressing on existing human rights standards such as the UK Governments current efforts to undermine the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. It also has the potential to build confidence across what is still a divided society that power will be exercised in a fair and equal manner regardless of who is in control of our government.
The #MakeOurFutureFair campaign has opened a public petition on its website encouraging people to press the Government to fulfil its Bill of Rights commitments.
To access the petition, go to www.makeourfuturefair.org
Tags: B/GFA, Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Bill of Rights