Slugger O'Toole

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

Sun 16 October 2011, 4:37pm

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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Comments (13)

  1. iluvni (profile) says:

    Cant they mothball these nonsense appointments until the country can afford to waste millions again?

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  2. Nevin (profile) says:

    “Ordained in the 1980s as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Galway, he has not exercised priestly ministry since 1992; he has not yet completed the process of laicisation,[6] but has applied for it [7] Qualified as a solicitor in Ireland, he does not practice in the courts.” .. Wiki source

    In light of the inquiry into historical institutional child abuse in NI what record does Michael O’Flaherty have in exposing child and/or adult abuse in Ireland?

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  3. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “his predecessor McWilliams could always rely on at least the moral back-up of both the SDLP and Sinn Fein in times of difficulty”

    …Catholic rights for a Catholic people?

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  4. cavanman (profile) says:

    “what consideration was given to finding a local person or at least someone with direct experience here…”

    Racist slop…As a man who lived twenty miles from Enniskillen, would that be considered local enough for Tom?

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  5. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    Its more than racist. Its insular and stupid as well. He’d be happy if a monkey from Bellevue was appointed to any role – provided it was a Unionist Monkey (a preferably a lodge member)

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  6. tomthumbuk (profile) says:

    So what have we got from them so far?
    Doh,…. I’ll have to think about that.
    I wonder how much this will cost the taxpayer?
    We’ve so many commisionersand special advisers,it’s a wonder we have any money left to keep the BCH accident and emergency, open!
    Oh sorry we haven’t!

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  7. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “keep the BCH accident and emergency, open”

    …. why do we need to ….its less than 2 miles to the RVH and Mater. We have too many hospitals

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  8. Why do we need so many Commissions? http://www.thedissenter.co.uk/2011/10/one-for-all/

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  9. Old Mortality (profile) says:

    If O’Flaherty were to attempt to promote ‘reproductive rights’ it would be an interesting – and probably amusing – test of Sinn Fein’s ‘progressive’ credentials.
    Did the Bishop of Derry not praise Martin McGuinness’s diligent attendance at mass? Has he lapsed since?

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  10. oneill (profile) says:

    Further to Professor O’Flaherty’s clarification above, this snippet from a recent interview with The News Letter (not online unfortunately) provides a bit more illumination and I think answers the question posed in the title to this post:

    “THE former Catholic priest who is Northern Ireland’s new human rights chief commissioner has declined to say whether he believes abortion should be available here.

    Speaking to the News Letter after succeeding Monica Mcilliams in the role, Professor Michael O’Flaherty said: “We engage with the issue of abortion only to the extent that international human rights law has anything to say about it.

    “As a matter of fact, international human rights law doesn’t have a lot to say on the issue of abortion.”

    He added: “We have no mandate whatsoever to lobby for changes to international law.”

    A majority of people in Northern Ireland across the religious divide have long opposed relaxing abortion laws.

    When it was put to Prof O’Flaherty that it was not an international issue but a UK issue, he said: “I simply have no view whatsoever yet on the extent to which the laws in Northern Ireland may or may not present a problem in terms of compatibility with international standards.

    I’m not aware that they do.”

    Asked whether moral or legal arguments play any role, he said: “If we lost sight of the legal base for our work then we would be open, I think, to very legitimate criticism.

    “It is the legal base that gives us the legitimacy… if we stray away from that it just becomes my opinion as opposed to your opinion as opposed to someone else’s opinion.”

    He said that it was his role to remind government of “international human rights treaties” and to raise public awareness of human rights but not to change the law.

    Asked again about his view on whether there should be a ‘right’ to abortion, he said: I’ve given my answer .”

    He added: “The only human rights are the ones contained in the international treaties.

    They apply across the board for all the countries.

    The international standards have very little to say on abortion.”

    The most obvious point I would make there is that if the NIHRC is going to employ the logic that “The only human rights are the ones contained in the international treaties” then surely certain elements of the BOR they produced will now have to be seriously reviewed?

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  11. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “The only human rights are the ones contained in the international treaties.”

    So what about Article 2 for starters

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  12. Alias (profile) says:

    “The most obvious point I would make there is that if the NIHRC is going to employ the logic that “The only human rights are the ones contained in the international treaties” then surely certain elements of the BOR they produced will now have to be seriously reviewed?”

    There isn’t a conflict since human rights are a matter of international law as such and only apply to nations, not citizens. National law, such as a Bill of Rights, are not human rights but rights that a particular state confers on its own citizens. As long as any proposed national law doesn’t conflict with the applicable international law then all is fine and dandy.

    It would be highly presumptuous of a state to proclaim what whatever rights it confers on its own citizens are human rights and, by implication, that other states are denying human rights by failing to proffer similiar domestic laws.

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  13. Framer (profile) says:

    The clarification from Professor O’Flaherty, is that “Further to the rules of the procedure of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, [he] recuses himself from any discussion of the human rights situation in the Republic of Ireland.

    Does this mean that he is still acting in the UN for the government of the Republic as its nominee, in which case how can he be chair of NIHRC without a standing conflict of interest?

    So which appointment comes first or predominates? Either way he is hobbled.

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