More power to your quango…

OUTGOING chief Human Rights Commissioner Brice Dickson has launched a blistering attack on the Government, blaming it for failing to provide the Commission with adequate powers. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster has also called for more powers for another product of the Agreement – the Police Ombudsman.

Press Association reports:

In a lengthy letter to Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy, Chief Commissioner Professor Brice Dickson castigated the British Government for failing to give his commission proper powers, running down its numbers and ignoring or rejecting its recommendations.

Professor Dickson blasted: “I cannot help feeling that on many occasions your government is content to pay lip service to human rights without actually doing much to protect them in practice.”

He pointed to delays put in the way of disclosing the truth about the murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane, and Ministry of Defence “obstructionism” during the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

He cited “tolerance” of loyalist and republican paramilitary punishment attacks and the “appalling lack of support” for prisoners and young people with mental problems in Northern Ireland.

They were all “telling signs that New Labour is not quite the caring, right-orientated government that we hoped it would be when it was first elected in 1997”.

Prof Dickson retired at the end of this month after heading the Commission during its first six years, a time when he has often clashed with the British Government.

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    Pedantic correction, but AFAIK the Police Ombudsman was not a product of the Agreement but was set up as part of a review of policing in NI that took place before the Agreement was signed. AFAIK it was initiated before Labour came to power. The Patten report extends it’s powers and puts it in context with the Police Board.

  • aquifer

    The GFA gave the NIHRC a job to do

    ‘The NIHRC is required by statute to advise the Secretary of State on the scope for defining, in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland to be enacted by Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998 states that the Bill should reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience.’

    Campaigning on a case by case basis was a reckless diversion, and the main task of achieving a bill of rights in statute is as yet incomplete.

    Holding out for maximal rights seems beside the point when any failure to entrench the GFA institutions risks a return to conflict and massive infringement of basic human rights.

    Accessible and speedy redress for simply stated basic rights, and for existing European rights, could entrench rights culture better than a much longer list buried in statute and accessible only to those on legal aid.