“The Forum is due to report in March 2008 and provide agreed recommendations..”

There has been a number of reactions to the announcement that the NIO [or “government” as this report puts it – Ed] has provided an extra £100,000 to fund 2 new outreach workers for the Bill of Rights Forum as it prepares a report for the NI Human Rights Commission, due next March. Update From the BBC’s Mark Devenport

Some of the recent debates over human rights here have been inexp[l]icable to anyone outside a small clique of experts. Let’s hope that the Forum follows the example of the American founding fathers and Eleanor Roosevelt who managed to produce declarations written in clear and elegant prose.

Those reactions include Sinn Féin’s Martina AndersonAdds A recent post on human rights and due process.

“We can set new standards in defining people’s rights – not just in terms of fundamental human rights but also for specific groups and on socio-economic issues like the right to housing.

Whose comments may be what the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson had in mind

“I think to a certain extent the whole human rights fraternity has largely ignored the concerns of unionists about the direction in which this whole human rights debate was moving,” he said.

“I think many unionists are nervous about the whole concept that we move away from a bill of rights which is about basic human rights to something that is very prescriptive.”

[Not just unionists, Jeffrey – Ed]

Not that the Bill Of Rights Forum itself is any clearer yet

What is a Bill of Rights?

A Bill of Rights is a law protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms to which each person is entitled. Those rights might include the right to life, the right to freedom of religion, the right to freedom of expression, the right to education or the right to good health care. Each country’s Bill of Rights should reflect the particular needs and circumstances of its people.

If it was just about “fundamental rights and freedoms” they’d have a much better chance of reaching consensus. But, of course, taking account of our “particular circumstances” is part of their remit..

“To produce agreed recommendations to inform the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s advice to Government on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience.”

And from the NIO statement notes

Notes to Editors

The 28 members of the independent Bill of Rights Forum for Northern Ireland will meet for the sixth time on Friday, September 7.

The DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP and SDLP each have three seats on the Forum and the Alliance Party has 2 seats.

Civic Society is represented by Employers, Trade Unions, and Churches which each have two seats, as well as one representative from each of the following sectors: human rights NGOs; children and young people; people with disabilities; ethnic minorities; older people; people of different sexual orientations; women; and the community / voluntary sector as a whole.

The forum is chaired by Chris Sidoti, a human rights lawyer, activist and teacher, who served as Australian Human Rights Commissioner (1995-2000).

notes that are worth considering when reading the comments from the chair of the Bill of Rights Forum reported here

Chris Sidoti, the Australian chairman of the Bill of Rights Forum, said the NIO money would also allow him to consult with children, migrants and the gay and lesbian community.

He is appointing two outreach workers as he considers his guidance to the Human Rights Commission, due next March.

“There has been concern expressed regularly that the unionist community has not been involved as much as it would have liked,” he said.

“People with minority sexual orientation have only become organised and active in recent years and there are opportunities to consult with them which were not previously available.”

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  • observer

    a lot of talk about rights , but little about responsibilities.

    If we have a right to housing or healthcare, shouldnt that be coupled with the responsibility to work so you pay taxes towards these “rights”

  • IJP


    a lot of talk about rights , but little about responsibilities.

    An appalling cliché… but an entirely accurate one.

    To avoid the cliché, I would reframe this a little.

    The basic assumption for too long has been that the State (whatever that is) is the only organ with responsibility for rights.

    Actually, each and every citizen has responsibility for rights.

    So yes, if, like you say, we have the right to housing, we also have the obligation to create wealth (including paying taxes and adhering to the law) in order to enable that right.

    In other words, the rights are implicitly responsibilities.

    (I am already on record as being somewhat sceptical, shall we say, of the value of “outreach” to a Forum which is already extremely limited on time.)

  • fair_deal

    This should have been done at the start, it will be difficult for any consultation process now to be meaningful or have significant impact.

    A thorough recruitment period will take a minimum of six weeks so that pretty much takes out Sept and Oct. This effectively leaves a 5 month contract (presuming applicants can start straight away), not a particularly attractive option to attract a skilled and wide pool of applicants.

    I find it hard to see how the development of a programme, production of materials, arranging of all the consultations etc can be completed this side of Christmas and the ‘dead’ period just before and after Xmas will further hamper the work. Possible by end of January but still pretty tight.

    With the final document to be ready in March and the working groups doing most of their work this side of xmas it is hard to see how the outreach programme will have an opportunity to effect the output in a significant way.

  • Ginfizz


    Presumably like the last BoR exercise, this one will drag for months over the deadline?

  • fair_deal


    Maybe it will but surely the employment and workplan would be based on the present target?

  • The Penguin

    These people should just be told to cut the crap.
    How difficult can all of this really be?
    All they have to do is grab a Bill of Rights from somewhere else, make a few changes to suit this place and there you have it.
    But no, our money grubbing leeches have to reinvent the wheel at every opportunity.

    Odds on, if they ever do get to produce something, they’ll have made a complete arse of it anyway.

  • Animus

    Forum participants get no recompense Penguin. Not a penny. So there’s no money-grubbing there. And the working groups are looking at Bills of Rights elsewhere for comparison.

    The outreach posts will probably be offered as secondment, so there will not need to be an eight week recruitment.

    There is no need to have a consultation exercise which replicates the previous one Fair Deal. The important aspect now is to get communities engaging meaningfully about rights. The unionist communities do need to get more involved, but they should take some responsiblity for resolutely refusing to participate at other times. It should also be noted that people who are unionist but don’t identify primarily as unionists (for example disability as issue is more important) may have engaged on a different level, so it isn’t totally fair to say that unionists weren’t engaged at all.

    The Forum is not going to produce a Bill – it will provide recommendations for someone else to draft and to advise the Human Rights Commission. It the HRC’s responsibility to provide advice to the SoS.

    Rights versus responsibilities important, but rights are fundamental. I think the example of housing is a good one – social and economic rights can only be progressively realisable and justiciable only as far as finance allows. But it’s also missing the point about what rights are. People often speak about rights in a way that is mistaken or misguided, at least in terms of law.

  • The Penguin

    Let’s not split hairs here about who is actually getting the dosh and who isn’t.

    A simple question: has all of this nonsense that has been going on around a Bill of Rights for over a decade now not cost the public purse anything, then?

    As I thought!
    A prolonged, costly exercise in reinventing the wheel.

  • Alan

    Rights are not just about people taking from the system. There’re also about agreeing what type of a society we want.

    Personally. I feel that people should have the right to a decent home, despite the speculators. or health care that meets their needs. We can’t allow the judges to decide how this is done, but we should agree it as an objective. We can then leave it to the politicians, come back to the politicians after a few years and see what has changed.

    It’s about progressive implementation; taking the time to get things right, but always striving to get them right.

  • fair_deal


    “It’s about progressive implementation”

    This has tended not to be the attitude adopted in the implementation of E&S rights with some excpetions it leans to immediate action.

    See Page 10, paragraph 40

  • IJP


    Very good post.

    Really until we agree what kind of society we want (within reason), discussion of rights is always going to be limited.

    Furthermore, discussion is always about what rights we should have. As I see it, fora such as these should be discussing implementation, how we put the ECHR at the heart of political decision making (much in the same way the US puts its constitution at the heart of its).

  • Alan


    It is all about implementation. You can have all the flowery phrases you want, but we all know it has to be paid for. Let’s concentrate on what we see as the good society and think how we can encourage politics to engage with that idea.

  • The Penguin

    Just love the argument, “Now let’s take our time and get this thing right”, as if it was the constitution of a new country we’re talking about.
    And as if that hasn’t been the order of the day for over 10 years.

    My point is that we have been “taking our time” on this thing for over a decade and far from “getting it right” it hasn’t moved an inch.

    We can find excuses to discuss, consult, hold meetings, take straw polls and all the rest of it, until we’re blue in the face – which is exactly what has been going on – but it never seems to advance us towards a Bill of Rights.

    It really isn’t rocket science.

  • fair_deal

    “It is all about implementation.”

    I know that is why I highlighted the general approach to implementation and pointed out this does not coincide with the approach you advocated.

    “You can have all the flowery phrases you want, but we all know it has to be paid for”

    1. Flowery is not my style.
    2. Really you don’t say
    3. The case law leans towards paying for it there and then not progressively so raises significant issues about what it is sensible to inlcude.

    “Let’s concentrate on what we see as the good society and think how we can encourage politics to engage with that idea.”

    A side-step but a reasonable one as is IJP’s similar point.

    The Penguin

    A significant chunk of the last 10 years was spent by the NIHRC making a complete hains of it in terms of failing to establish credibility, god awful political management, wandering into the cul-de-sac of interpreting the belfast agreement and producing a dog’s dinner of proposals.

  • Pete Baker

    Update to the original post

    From the BBC’s Mark Devenport

    Some of the recent debates over human rights here have been inexpicable to anyone outside a small clique of experts. Let’s hope that the Forum follows the example of the American founding fathers and Eleanor Roosevelt who managed to produce declarations written in clear and elegant prose.