Is O’Flaherty prepared to rattle *all* the cages?

Editor’s note: *See the bottom of the article for an important footnote from Professor O’Flaherty…

In last Monday’s Irish Times, we were helpfully informed that “Michael O’Flaherty has carried out much work promoting human rights” which was a relief to read, especially bearing in mind his new position as Monica McWilliams’ replacement at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

But it is the nature of at least some of that “work” and the fact that he is a “Southerner” which  led both the IT and O’Flaherty himself to believe he may “provoke opposition in certain quarters in Northern Ireland”.

With regards to the latter point, Tom Elliott had this to say:

“Given decisions the NIHRC takes are mainly about Northern Ireland I would like to know what consideration was given to finding a local person or at least someone with direct experience here…”

I would strongly maintain that having *local* people in charge of the NIHRC since its inception has had no discernible positive effect on the quality of its decision making  but leaving that disloyal thought aside, the other “quarters” who may not be happy with with the appointment will be probably more concerned with his role as a leading gay rights advocate.

O’Flaherty was the UN rapporteur for the development of the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of guidelines which attempted to “address a broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity”. His involvement certainly irked the more fundamentalist wing of Catholic opinion in the Republic and further afield but if you take the time to actually read them, with the exception of one or two “cultural” points, there is nothing that can (or should) be argued against from a genuine human rights point of view.

Professor O’Flaherty has promised to continue the fight for LGBT rights in his new position, the question of “gay adoption” is specifically mentioned by him in the article. Interestingly enough he will, in all likelihood, have more support in N.Ireland in this fight than he would have had in his own native country. With the exception of the DUP and much of the traditionalist wing of the UUP, all other politicians play at least lip service here to the concept of LGBT rights. If there are elements in the media which disagree with the principle, then they are pretty quiet about it. Likewise with the wider Human Rights Industry. And that’s a good thing- if he decides to make it one of his targets to (metaphorically) bash the homophobes, then I’m 100% behind him.

But as I have implied here, the promotion of gender rights in Ulster, whilst certainly not universally popular, is easier than the promotion of one of the other rights Professor O’Flaherty has been directly involved in and that is the woman’s right of choice.

In 2008 the Republic’s government appeared before the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee and were heavily criticised for not bringing its law on women’s reproductive rights into line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Republic was deemed to be in breach of articles 2, 3, 6, and 26 of the ICCPR. Michael O’Flaherty was a prominent member of that committee condemning his own government* for the treatment of a section of its female population.

Have his opinions on women’s reproductive rights changed in the intervening three years?

You wouldn’t have thought so.

Will he then be promoting those rights in his new position?

It will be certainly be a much more difficult task than the LGBT one he has highlighted.

For a start, his predecessor McWilliams could always rely on at least the moral back-up of both the SDLP and Sinn Fein in times of difficulty; with abortion both are effectively in the same defensive camp as the Unionist parties and the Christian fundamentalists- socially progressive policies obviously have their limits (it could well knacker Sinn Fein’s future funding from the more reactionary wing of Irish America for a start).

Similarly the Human Rights Oligarchy as a whole in N.Ireland have bottled it 100% in the most cowardly way when faced with the issue- witness how the NIHRC’s  infamous Bill of Rights dealt with almost every conceivable right, short of owning a gold-platted bidet, but ignored the tangible one which sets us apart from not just the rest of the UK but also the EU and, indeed, most of the developed world.

Women’s reproductive rights may well be an inconvenient question for many in Northern Ireland but that doesn’t mean it is one which shouldn’t be answered and given O’Flaherty’s individualist, non-conformist background and history I am quietly confident we are going to see now, at last, some kind of progress on the matter.

Editor’s note: We have received this clarification from Professor O’Flaherty:

“Further to the rules of the procedure of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Professor O’Flaherty recuses himself from any discussion of the human rights situation in the Republic of Ireland. Accordingly, he has played no role whatsoever in any exchanges of views between the Committee and the Irish Government or in the issuing of any recommendations by the Committee to that Government.”

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