Yes to a Bill of Rights…but with one condition

While Church of Ireland Gazette has laid out its opposition, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor Patrick Walsh has expressed support for a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights but he stressed the importance of the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland caveat arguing this meant protections for families:

“As we reflect, in the context of Northern Ireland, on the human family as a community of peace, the Human Rights Forum should enumerate the rights of the family based on marriage given that the basic cell of society is the natural family, that intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman”

He also called for the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend the sexual orientation regulations:

“Legislation affecting Northern Ireland which was enacted in Westminster on this day last year has serious implications for marriage and family life and the right of faith-based organisations to act in a manner consistent with their ethos. This legislation can be amended by our assembly and out legislators must look seriously at the current legislation.”

Human rights groups and other sectors may have a few issues with both of those.

  • ulsterfan

    I knew this would happen.
    Lets forget about the Universality of Human Rights and in its place design something which is compatible to he teaching of the Church (in this case RC ). As I have said before an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

  • Except that many wee Frees would have little problem endorsing the concept that the State, unlike what Pierre Trudeau said in 1967, has a place in the bedrooms of the nation.

    Basically what the B of D and C is calling for is the same legislative mess that putting morality (divorce, abortion for instance) in the Constitution of Ireland has caused in the last quarter century.

  • joeCanuck

    repost from the previous thread:

    #

    Here’s a potential solution to many people’s fears.
    A Canadian Government tried to change our Constitution in the late 80s. In my opinion, it was full of bullshit like the right to housing and the right to employment.
    Anyhow, to be ratified a referendum was promised and held. The changes were roundly rejected by the sensible electorate.
    Posted by joeCanuck on Jan 03, 2008 @ 02:18 PM

  • USA

    “based on marriage given that the basic cell of society is the natural family, that intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman”

    What a load of garbage, ironically from someone who has never been married.
    Do these church people understand what a bill of rights is?
    We have a Bill of Rights here in the US and it is a vital component of a healthy democracy. Ours was designed to protect the PEOPLE from invasive or dictatorial government and the Bill of Rights belongs to the peopole. Democracy in the US means “government of the PEOPLE, BY the PEOPLE and For the PEOPLE”. Democracy does not mean government OVER the people. I feel too many in Ireland and Britain seem to accept the big government approach.
    We also seperate church and state, the reasons for which have been articulatly outlined by the two churchmen who are criticising and attempting to place restrictions on the proposed Bill of Rights.
    Nonsense from both of them, they should stick to the crap about monotheism and omnipotent beings. The PEOPLE should be demanding a Bill of Rights from the political leaders.

    PS. Before you start I recoginse that all democracies are flawed and the US is no exception. So there is no need for the usual anti-American vile from some quarters.

  • Siphonophore

    The basic unit of society is the citizen not the family. As illustrated by the reality that the social contract is negotiated between citizens not between families.

    With the advent of effective contraception there has been a paradigm shift in society and the economic component of the family structure has increased in importance relative to the procreative component.

    I have no objections to protections and support for the family unit but the traditional family unit should not be used as a weapon to cudgel novel and non-traditional family units out of existence.

  • graduate

    USA, In many ways your post is spot on. What you haven’t grasped or iginored is that the concept of a Bill of Rights for NI is being pushed by republicans and therefore “by hte people, for the people” isn’t their starting point. their starting point is “let’s hit the Brits and Prods with a big stick and go for big government, MARXIST theory”. In other words, political warfare, rather than concern for democracy.

  • Damian O’Loan

    As submitted to previous debate:

    Firstly, the rights of former terrorists have no place in any BoR, and are guaranteed by the design of the process not to. Why have SF not been pursuing this agenda in its rightful place, the Assembly? I wonder.

    The concept of a Bill of Rights is to ensure the minimum standards to which we will hold all future governments. It is, therefore, necessarily less than that which we already have in lesser pieces of legislation. That does not mean it is not necessary, and ceratinly not that it has nothing to offer. It offers stability to future generations because, once embedded, it becomes integral to the fabric of society and attempts to circumvent or dispose of it can be seen clearly by the electorate. Who can then watch Big Brother and fall asleep.

    Beano’s comment on the six-year old says, to me, more about the misrepresentation of the concept of human rights than that concepts inherent value. This misrepresentation, and the consequential misundestandings, can be not only ridiculous, but dangerous.

    The theory of human rights states that they are inter-dependent. So, if you remove the right to effective remedy, as was a risk in S Africa when vegetables cured AIDS, you jeopardise the Right to Life. This inter-dependency extends to those rights which are wrongly distinguished from the others. Environmental rights are beginning to gain currency, as there is a real possibility that climate change will lead directly to warfare, and so impact upon many of the civil & political rights that some here believe in.

    For example, the Right to Housing is designed to protect against mass forced eviction. Such as is happening today in China. To make room for factories, no notice, nor compensation of course – ultra-liberalism (or economic terrorism), the alternative to human rights, is the most short-term of economic policies and one that is most likely to lead to another World War.

    But they would have little impact here, because we are relatively wealthy. They may though, have forced Westminster to act to stem the mass exodus from S Armagh and parts of (London) Derry. Or to offer greater, more neutral protection from paramilitaries (Again, the inter-dependency is clear).

    Willowfield – life is conditional; the right to life is not, and will outlive any and all of us. The Right to Freedom in no way prevents government from locking up murderers.

    The idea that a Northern Ireland BoR is a Nationalist agenda is counter-intuitive, as it would help embed the statelet. But I would not dismiss this being a real worry for many on both sides. Genuine efforts have been made to allow Unionism/Loyalism to embrace the concept (the UPRG called for one some twenty years ago), and I hope this effort meets a positive response leading to the farce that rights belong to one community ending once and for all.

    Further, judges have been at the top of the legislative tree for centuries, though for the most part only in the most progressive and wealthy of nation states. Objection on this ground is really an objection to the democratic systems which are based on the contribution of centuries of the greatest minds, plus experience.

    Can we be humble enough to accept that a few corrupt judges here, a bad government there, amount to less than what is on offer from those elements aforementioned?

    The Bill of Rights, in certainty, would be a minimalist document, because of the steps to its implementation. It would be a little for a long time though, and that security may just be useful when Russia and China are the No 1 superpowers, if a S American socialist bloc spreads, if, on the off-chance, the status quo is not to be eternal.

  • Animus

    I think Damian has a fair point (although it takes a while to get to it). The right to housing has also been used in South Africa in a case of forced homelessness. A right to housing does not guarantee you a magnificent house, all mod cons, great location (evidently you have to have special connections to a junior minister for that) but would simply recognise that the state has some duty to prevent abuses of rights.

    There are many people arguing for a Bill of Rights who are neither nationalist nor Marxist (funny little turn of phrase). I would invite the naysayers to read up a little more about what the process has been doing to date before decrying the whole situation. There are many sectors represented which are interested from the perspective of potential vulnerability (older people for example, or children), not from a political point of view.

    The family unit is natural in that humans stick together but marriage is a human-made institution. And from the high rates of divorce and infidelity, higher than average rates of domestic violence within the UK, it’s hard to argue persuasively that it works for everyone or should be held up as a ‘community of peace’. Of course I think people should make a partnership work, and to raise children in a stable family environment, but I’m not convinced that only married heterosexuals are capable of doing this.

  • Comrade Stalin

    USA,

    We have a Bill of Rights here in the US and it is a vital component of a healthy democracy. Ours was designed to protect the PEOPLE from invasive or dictatorial government and the Bill of Rights belongs to the peopole.

    It’s a shame it doesn’t always work as simply as that in practice. The same document was used to justify “separate but equal”, and then subsequently to overturn it. Most recently, the constitution was used to stop a recount of a disputed election result. I think it’s important that people recognize the limitations. You can’t just say “thank Christ we’ve got a constitution, our freedoms are therefore never going to come under threat” because it’s patent nonsense.

    Democracy in the US means “government of the PEOPLE, BY the PEOPLE and For the PEOPLE”. Democracy does not mean government OVER the people. I feel too many in Ireland and Britain seem to accept the big government approach.

    On the contrary, Americans love big government, especially in the form of defence.

    We also seperate church and state

    Not really. Religions in the USA are entitled to tax-exempt status. A truly separate church and state would not allow this. Furthermore, how likely is it that an atheist or a muslim would get elected President ? Hard enough to get a Catholic in there.

    , the reasons for which have been articulatly outlined by the two churchmen who are criticising and attempting to place restrictions on the proposed Bill of Rights.

    The interference by the church, particularly Bishop Walsh who was never elected or endorsed by anybody, is unwarranted and should be ignored for the dated nonsense that it is.

    PS. Before you start I recoginse that all democracies are flawed and the US is no exception. So there is no need for the usual anti-American vile from some quarters.

    There is nothing anti-American about pointing out the serious flaws in the USA constitutional setup, especially when people proselytize about it in the way that you just did. The “separation of church and state” thing isn’t even written in the constitution, and in practice it’s seldom followed. Look at the way the Kansas State board of Education was able to attempt to remove science in favour of teaching religion as a replacement in schools.

  • USA

    Animus,
    Well said.

    Comrade Stalin,
    “You can’t just say “thank Christ we’ve got a constitution, our freedoms are therefore never going to come under threat” because it’s patent nonsense.”
    I never said that.

    “The same document was used to justify “separate but equal”, and then subsequently to overturn it.”
    Seperate but equal was overturned in 1954 (over 50 years ago). The supreme court overturned it by a vote of 9 to 0. The system worked, I would recommend you guys try a Supreme Court arrangement. The legal basis for the decision by the way was the 14th amendment which in not part of the Bill of Rights.

    the constitution was used to stop a recount of a disputed election result.
    That is just a weak statement Mr Stalin. The process went all the way to the Supreme Court (a hallowed institution in this Republic). To challange the Supreme Court as well as the electoral system was not a viable option for Gore (unfortuantely). Its related to the separation of powers between the three main elements of government, the judiciary, the executive branch and the legislative branch.

    On the contrary, Americans love big government, especially in the form of defence
    I disagree that Americans love big government but I agree we spend way too much on military expendiature, not sure what link you are trying to make though.

    Religions in the USA are entitled to tax-exempt status
    To steal a line from Father Ted, that would be a taxation matter and not an ecumenical matter. Due to the charitable nature of their work I suspect churches enjoy some tax benefits in most developed economies, but again that is merely a matter for the tax man; the churches do not govern how we live or what rights citizens enjoy under the constitution. We most certainly have seperation of Church and State, you see it everyday in the schools etc. Religion is a personal matter for the home not for work / school etc.

    The interference by the church, particularly Bishop Walsh who was never elected or endorsed by anybody, is unwarranted and should be ignored for the dated nonsense that it is.
    I agree, I was poking a jibe at the churchmen. Their ill informed pronouncements are exactly why we have separation of church and state – who wants the religious nuts of any hue telling other people how to live (and we have nuts of all hues).

    The “separation of church and state” thing isn’t even written in the constitution, and in practice it’s seldom followed. Look at the way the Kansas State board of Education was able to attempt to remove science in favour of teaching religion as a replacement in schools.

    I highlighted the key word for you Comrade, ATTEMPT. The religious right (flat earthers) has been trying to get this stuff into the education system throught the back door because the separation of Church and State won’t let them in the front. They have been doing this by trying to get people elected to boards of education all over the country. They will not be successful, despite the fact that one of their own unfortunately is the current president. Like Blair he is aware of the limitatins of his office and knows people will only tolerate his religious views to an extent. Again, it was a State Board of Education, which is very different from the Federal government

    I’m sure you are aware that the Bill of Rights only comprises of the first 10 amendments to the WRITTEN constitution (another document you guys should put in place). This way all future governments know up front what rights the citizens hold inaliable and how far the citizenry will permit an elected government to go.

    Finally, Damian O’Loan eventurally made a great point in response to the “nationalist agenda” contrivance when he said:
    “I hope this effort meets a positive response leading to the farce that rights belong to one community ending once and for all.’

    If you are still reading Comrade then ….thanks, I hope I made some sense. Don’t have time to correct typos and grammar, so its up there warts and all.

  • McKelvey

    “The interference by the church, particularly Bishop Walsh who was never elected or endorsed by anybody, is unwarranted and should be ignored for the dated nonsense that it is.”

    I agree with the rest of what you argue, however, the Bishop and the clergy have as much of a right to make their case as any other segment of civil society.

  • The Dubliner

    Plus, the logic of saying that only the elected should be heard means that you should also remain silent. Were that logic applied by non-fanatics, I suspect that the separation between church and state would disappear since a church would have to form its own political party and have its leaders elected to run the state. Be careful of what you wish for. 😉

  • Comrade Stalin

    USA,

    Still reading. I’ll reply later 🙂

  • willowfield

    USA

    We have a Bill of Rights here in the US and it is a vital component of a healthy democracy. Ours was designed to protect the PEOPLE from invasive or dictatorial government and the Bill of Rights belongs to the peopole. Democracy in the US means “government of the PEOPLE, BY the PEOPLE and For the PEOPLE”. Democracy does not mean government OVER the people. I feel too many in Ireland and Britain seem to accept the big government approach.

    Actually, it’s the same in the UK. Although we don’t have the “right” to own guns!

    Ironically for you, those pushing for additional rights to those we already enjoy are attempting to enshrine a “big government” approach which presumably you oppose!

  • USA

    I wouldn’t want to distract the debate to the US. I do feel that a written document – “Bill of Rights” would be of great help to your society. Even the process of developing it can only raise the awareness levels of the citizenry concerning such matters.
    Valid point by McKelvey about the church leaders right to air their views, I also think such unhelpful contributions by the church elders need to be challanged when appropriate. A Bill of Rights is much too important a document to be mismanaged.

  • paxmas

    The Human Rights Act 1998  entrenches most of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms into domestic law. This shall become binding under the Reform Treaty etc. Also we abide by international law more so than the US.
    The question therefore is do we need another layer of law that is already
    covered by EC and domestic law?

  • willowfield

    USA hasn’t addressed the points put to him.

  • USA

    Willowfield,
    Specifically what points would you like me to address ?

  • willowfield

    1. To acknowledge that the rights you enjoy in the US are also enjoyed in the UK.

    2. To acknowledge that those pushing for additional rights to those we already enjoy in NI are attempting to enshrine a “big government” approach to which you have indicated opposition.

    3. Why do you think we need rights additional to those we already have, and specifically what additional rights do you think we need?

  • Sledge

    @Mark Dowling

    Except that many wee Frees would have little problem endorsing the concept that the State, unlike what Pierre Trudeau said in 1967, has a place in the bedrooms of the nation.

    Basically what the B of D and C is calling for is the same legislative mess that putting morality (divorce, abortion for instance) in the Constitution of Ireland has caused in the last quarter century.

    I don’t really consider abortion to be merely a matter of private personal morality. Rather it is a matter of determining the rights of the fetus, essentially extending the laws against the infanticide of newborns back in time.

    It’s a matter not dissimilar to animal rights, a class of living thing without perhaps the full rights of an adult human being but nevertheless not without any rights not to be protected from pain or harm at all. Even the non-religious have not agreed on the issue of abortion, with some believing that any abortion is wrong and others believing that even infanticide up to a few weeks after birth is acceptable (e.g. Peter Singer).

  • Sledge – don’t misread my comment there.

    Abortion should be regulated by legislation and secondary regulation. This leaves a broad swathe of choice between on-demand and prohibition, with plenty of room of the middle ground and detailed regulation. Putting it in the Constitution as an absolute right issue is what I consider the failed option, not regulating the practice of abortion, since a Constitutional amendment cannot provide the same depth of detail as primary legislation. An enabling clause in the Constitution could possibly shield legislation from review by the courts, similar to the clauses enabling the ratification of European Treaties.

    The fact that Ireland has not legislated for the X Case is due to craven fear by the governments since.

    In Canada, a large section of Charter of Rights and Freedoms (S2 and S7-15) is subject to Section 33 – the “Notwithstanding Clause”, which permits provincial legislatures to make laws even if contrary to the Charter. This requires the exception to be renewed every five years.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Well said Bishop Walsh.It is about time that the
    Church started to give leadership on these issues.
    Although the Majority of people in N.I profess to be Christian,we are being portrayed by the media to be religious zealots,the media has it’s own anti God agenda and we the majority should not allow them to brow beat us.

  • USA

    Willowfield,
    1. I’m not a lawyer but broadly speaking I think its reasonable to say that people in Britain and the US enjoy similar rights within their respective democracies. Both these countries have relatively healthy democracies however, the “wee six” does not. It it could be argued that you guys are only now beginning to try and lay the foundations of a sustainable democratic system and success is not ensured (although it looks promising so far).

    2. I cannot acknowledge that people are “pushing for additional rights” for two reasons. Firstly i’m not aware of what “additional rights” people are pushing for, please list. Secondly, can citizens really have “additional” rights? Our perspective is that citizens do not petition for “additional rights”, they retain them from the start.
    Having said that I would be interested to hear what “additional rights” are being asked for, not least because this must imply a deficit in the current arrangement. I did quickly eyeball the European Convention of Human Rights and was impressed.

    3. A few concerns here, for while the ECHR covers most if not all of the bases, I am concerned about how your rights are taken away or ignored. It would seem some in government feel the ECHR is optional or does not apply to the “wee six”. Our Fifth Amendment includes – Due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, eminent domain.
    No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, ….. nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    Self incrimination – I believe the British did away with the right to silence in the wee six and now judges are instructed to interpret “silence” as guilt. That strikes me as wrong. Practically makes the defendant a “witness against himself“.
    Also, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Well where do I start?
    Life Shoot to kill, collusion.
    Liberty Internment, non jury “trials”.
    Property House raids, an example of a GAA club in Crossmaglen? occupied by British forces for 30? years.
    – I could go on a lot more but you get the point. Lets just say there would be cause for concern. Given the track record it would be remiss not to examine the issue in a local context. However I do again conceed that the European Convention on Human Rights is as good a document as I have seen and it may be all that is needed. But how come there are so many flagrant human rights abuses carried out by the “government” with no legal recourse for the citizenry? Given the short list I just put forth above, one would be forgiven for thinking it was a state where even defence lawyers, civil rights activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, politicians and regular citizens would live in fear of state assasination.
    Surely things were not that bad, oh wait, they were, which might explain why some people feel it is an extremely important issue.
    Historically, ignoring civil rights and human rights issues added fuel to the flames of conflict and civil disorder. Would be a good idea to avoid that mistake a second time.
    A clearly defined Bill of Rights is an idea with merit and maybe the ECHR will cover it as you may believe (I think it only became law in 1998). As long as the citizens NEVER allow whoever is in power to ignore it. A Bill of Rights protects everyone, not just one section of the community.
    A society that permited Internment, non jury trials and abolished the right to silence etc is a poster boy for a society that needs a citizens Bill of Rights.

  • willowfield

    USA

    1. I’m not a lawyer but broadly speaking I think its reasonable to say that people in Britain and the US enjoy similar rights within their respective democracies. Both these countries have relatively healthy democracies however, the “wee six” does not.

    Er, the “wee six” is part of the UK and people there have the same rights as their fellow citizens.

    It it could be argued that you guys are only now beginning to try and lay the foundations of a sustainable democratic system and success is not ensured (although it looks promising so far).

    Your conflating “sustainable democratic system” and human rights.

    2. I cannot acknowledge that people are “pushing for additional rights” for two reasons. Firstly i’m not aware of what “additional rights” people are pushing for, please list.

    I’m not either. That’s the whole point of this thread – the NI bill of rights is supposedly going to be a list of additional rights, but we don’t know what they are. You seem to be arguing in support of the NI bill of rights, yet now you say you don’t know what it’s going to contain or why it is necessary.

    Secondly, can citizens really have “additional” rights?

    Yes. If on Monday they have the ECHR and on Tuesday they have the ECHR + NI bill of rights, then they have additional rights on Tuesday to those they had on Monday.

    Having said that I would be interested to hear what “additional rights” are being asked for, not least because this must imply a deficit in the current arrangement. I did quickly eyeball the European Convention of Human Rights and was impressed.

    If you don’t know what the additional rights may be, why are you – apparently – arguing in favour of a NI bill of rights?

    3. A few concerns here, for while the ECHR covers most if not all of the bases, I am concerned about how your rights are taken away or ignored. It would seem some in government feel the ECHR is optional or does not apply to the “wee six”.

    It doesn’t seem so at all. No-one in government feels that the ECHR is optional or that it does not apply to NI. Why or how could they?

    Well where do I start? Life Shoot to kill, collusion.

    Several cases have been taken to the European Court of Human Rights about alleged shoot-to-kill and collusion. The Government has been found guilty on some counts – usually in respect of inadequate investigation, etc. Interestingly, in the case of the biggest alleged “shoot-to-kill” (Loughgall), the killings themselves were not found to have been unlawful, but the subsequent investigation was found to have been inadequate.

    Liberty Internment, non jury “trials”.

    Do you know why non-jury trials were introduced?

    Property House raids, an example of a GAA club in Crossmaglen? occupied by British forces for 30? years.

    If any such activities are alleged to have been unlawful under the ECHR, a court may determine whether the state is guilty or not. Raiding houses, however, I think you’ll find is a perfectly reasonable activity in the interests of protecting society from crime.

    But how come there are so many flagrant human rights abuses carried out by the “government” with no legal recourse for the citizenry?

    Such as? There has been recourse against “flagrant abuses” under the ECHR for decades.

    Given the short list I just put forth above, one would be forgiven for thinking it was a state where even defence lawyers, civil rights activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, politicians and regular citizens would live in fear of state assasination.

    I think you’re exaggerating. How many of each category were “assassinated by the state”? And how would a NI bill of rights have prevented such alleged “assassinations”.