The Bill of Rights – is CFNI skewing the pitch?

A Human Rights Forum is to be estalished to take forward the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The debate around this Bill involves very important questions. How far beyond the European Convention does the Bill need to go? Should the emphasis be upon negative or positive rights? Are civil and political protections sufficient? What about cultural rights? How far should it venture into social and economic rights if at all? All of these will have significant consequences for local democracy and potentially the public purse.

To complement this process, the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland has a funding programme. This support could ensure a full and fair debate on all these fundamental questions. Unfortunately, CFNI specifically bars critics from such support, it excludes what it deems “initiatives that are anti-Bill of Rights position”. How does the NIHRC and human rights groups feel about this impairment of a full and free debate? Is supporting one side of the debate not a indirect assault on freedom of speech? Why this fear of criticism?

  • David

    Northern Ireland is becoming a laboratory where all sorts of fashionable politically correct social engineering is being tested.

    In the long term this is likely to prove a disaster. The semi-Marxist political fashions of the 1960s and 1970s arose in western university campuses, yet were never really implemented in western countries. Instead they were put into practice in the Third World where their anti-imperialist credentials overrode any common sense that might have stood in the way of the economic and social devestation they caused.

    Today the Third Word has largely learned not to run after the latest university political fashions, so western governments need a new laboratory. As no country is gullible enough to try these things they have to come to the one area under their control where the people have no power and where the British government appointed quango elite has been chosen for its subservience to government policy alone.

  • Butterknife

    The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty means that an Act of Parliament implements the ECHR: i.e. Section 3 of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998–a.htm#1

    So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights.

    What good will be the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland be for:
    1.We have to abide by the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, and
    2.Parliament has an obligation to give effect to the positive rules of the ECHR?

    Even where a rule in the Bill looks helpful it could still violate the HRA 1998.

  • FD, the idea of a bill of rights supplementing the European convention was included in the GFA and the forum was proposed in the St Andrew’s Agreement. Exactly what do you think needs to happen before any decision is actually regarded as settled?

  • fair_deal

    “Exactly what do you think needs to happen before any decision is actually regarded as settled?”

    You are basing your comment on an assumption I reject the notion of a bill of rights or the form. I don’t I just believe there should be a full and fair debate around all the issues including criticism of the entire process. Do you?

  • Fair enough FD: I was reading too much into your comment than I ought to. On full and fair debates around all issues, well I do of course believe in that. That said, I think it’s entirely fair, if a forum to decide how a policy is to be implemented is being established, that people not be paid to revisit the fact of the policy itself. That’s not the question at hand.

  • fair_deal

    Criticism of the entire process can help people reflect on how far a process should be taken further. Also just because a group did not succeed in the first debate does not mean they are necessarily wrong and treated differentially.

  • Well, they might not necessarily be wrong, but they might be treated differentially.

    A quick analogy: if I’m asked by a minister to set up a forum decide where speed cameras are to be set up, I’m going to regard anyone who wants to debate having speed cameras at all as a time-waster within the context of the forum no matter what I thought of their position.

    On the HR bill, it was decided quite a long time ago that one would be enacted. The forum is going to look at how it will be enacted. The political sphere is available for criticism of the legislative framework and every other debate. The forum is there for discussing implementation and nothing else. So, differential treatment within a narrowly focused forum without at all denying anyone’s general freedom of speech.

  • Animus

    The grants programme is set up to build up a culture of human rights and the bill of rights. Why would groups which are anti Bill of Rights be interested, except to hinder the process?

    The grants process is limited, therefore that programme is one contribution to the debate, not the sum of the debate.

    David – what is your take on the South African bill of rights process? And speaking of 60s and 70s, isn’t the term Third World a bit outdated? Your post sounds a wee bit paranoid – a conspiracy theory too far.

  • I agree – there is a difference between a process of selecting an option and a process of managing the implementation of that process. Clearly this is an example of the latter.

  • rapunsel

    “These programmes are part of an initiative to create local awareness and debate and to encourage participation in the process of creating an appropriate Bill of Rights. ”

    Don’t see that your criticism is fair. CFNI is runnig a grants programme with the explicit aim of supporting the development of an appropriate Bill of Rights and aiming to get people involved in contributing to that. I don’t see why CFNI would be expected to facilitate the entire debate on the process — surely that is up to others including the NIHRC. Nothing to do with free speeech at all as anybody opposed to a Bill of Rights can and will be able to articulate that position. Perhaps there is a funding body out there that is opposed to a Bill of Rights– if that is the case, surely it would be up to them to support the anti position

  • fair_deal


    You all seem to be forgetting that there isn’t ‘one view’ of how to create a human rights culture or even what human rights are/how far they extend. Therefore a full debate should be facilitated.

    I repeat the final question why do they fear criticism?


    “I don’t see why CFNI would be expected to facilitate the entire debate on the process—surely that is up to others including the NIHRC”

    1. A poor attempt to pass the buck. CFNI chose to provide the funding and chose to restrict it to one side of the debate. AFAIK they are the sole funder for this type of work so there is nowhere else for others to go.
    2. The NIHRC keeps saying it doesn’t have the resources.

    “Nothing to do with free speeech at all as anybody opposed to a Bill of Rights can and will be able to articulate that position.”

    Hmmm, one side gets funded to push a particular message and the other doesn’t. Would a referendum were one side got funding and the other was denied it be considered free and fair? I am not even demanding that it should be an even split simply that those critical or sceptical have access to resources too. Why is that so terrible?

  • William

    I was at the NIHRC conference and it was very much a case of preaching to the converted. There were lots of self-righteous people congratulating themselves on their general brilliance, with any challenge to the liberal consensus (e.g. from a SPUC spokesman) frowned upon with lemon-lipped sanctimoniousness.

    Nothing ever changes.

  • BeardyBoy

    another example of non-liberal Liberals – when is somone going to put a brake on the runaway rights industry?