Charter debate: more questions than answers

The e-debate has been slow to start, but there’s been some interesting questions that have arisen out of the first few days of discussion. Here’s a short outline of some of the main points so far. Colin Harvey will have more questions tomorrow.The discussion so far has raised more questions than answers. The primary one being whether we really need an all island charter when, in theory at least, the European Convention on Human Rights already covers both parts of the island? There’s also the question of whether an all-Ireland charter pre-supposes a future unification of the island? Although the debate has not as yet probed this as thoroughly as it might.

There’s the two speeds of progress in legislation in the two states. Despite the controversy experienced in Northern Ireland in formulating a widely acceptable bill of rights, the UK has already translated much of the convention into law already with the Human Rights Act of 1998. The Republic has yet to consider fully what extensions, if any, it will legislate for in Irish law. Is it possible that an informal charter can bridge the gap?

The provision of ‘minimum standards’ under the convention was taken to mean different things to different people. One contributor felt that children’s rights and those of the disabled might provide fertile ground for an extension of the convention. Clearly it allows for a sliding scale of legislation to be tempered by local/national consensus.

The enforceability of an island-wide charter was questioned. In what is still a broadly conservative society, one contributor asked, “How can you force those fundamentally opposed to gay rights to legislate and promote policies that enhance gay rights? How could you censure them for failure?” In particular how a programmatic charter would face the popular challenge of a referendum in the Republic of Ireland, without a means of resolving, or at least standing outside, such apparently conflicting values?