On new human rights, terrorism and a new security industry

On Tuesday, it’s a “new counterterrorism strategy.” On Wednesday it’s a document on a new UK Bill of Right and Responsibilities, that according to the Sunday Times suggests “new entitlements such as rights to good healthcare, education and freedom from poverty ( which) could be added to traditional freedoms such as trial by jury and free speech. The new rights would be offset by responsibilities, such as a duty to look for work in return for receiving benefits or to look after one’s children.” The Rights business is deeply confusing. The supporting article by Justice Minister Michael Wills contains no mention of economic rights. If the Bill does, I’ll eat my hat. And how would the UK Bill dovetail with an NI Bill of Rights with its long list of every new right you ever thought of and some others besides? Answer comes there none.

Labour are eroding rights quicker than they’re extending them Are rights and counterterrorism compatible? Yes, in theory. Protection by the state is a supreme right but it’s a hard balance to strike. Labour’s reputation is to say the least dubious – secret inquests, acquiescence in torture, internment by control order, etc. – and both main parties’ hostility to the Human Rights Act and to some Freedom of Information. And next up, Gordon Brown announces he’s setting up a new kind of security industry that Northern Ireland dismantled a decade ago. Is NI going to get some of it back again? In the Observer, Brown makes his case with NI as his jumping off point to al Qaida.

These brutal acts, so devastating in their impact on the families of those murdered, have led the people and politicians of Northern Ireland to stand as one against any return of the terrorist threat. We should be under no illusion, however, that the biggest security threat to our country and other countries is the murderous agents of hate that work under the banner of al-Qaida…

Of the 80 terrorists now behind bars, half of them pleaded guilty. We know this is hitting terrorists’ morale as well as disrupting more than a dozen plots that could have caused hundreds of deaths.

80 terrorists netted at extra cost rising to £3.5 billion. OK, a major terrorist outrage could cost much more, upfront and directly.

At the national level, we have built the strongest-ever counterterrorist framework, with investment rising from £1bn in 2001 to £3.5bn in 2011. At our borders, we have brought in improved electronic checks, excluded more than 150 people from Britain on national security grounds since 2005 and toughened our approach to refusing entry to extremists.

Some 60,000 civilians, including shop managers and council workers, have been trained to cope with the threat. Pocket patters, more parking naysayers more jobsworths with peaked caps – you can see it all again…

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London