NI Bill of Rights – the next steps

Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, MP, has announced the launch of a public consultation document on the troubled NI Bill of Rights. Consultation period to end March 1, 2010. From the summary of proposals in the document [pdf file] there seems to be a [sensible] distinction between what is proposed to be included in the Bill and what is proposed to be “considered” for inclusion – either by himself, with the Irish Government, or with the Executive… Good luck with that last one, Shaun.From the Summary of Proposals [Appendix 1 of pdf file]


On equality, representation and participation in public life, the Government proposes to:

· CONSIDER with the Executive additional equality protections (either in the form of a general declaratory provision that everyone in Northern Ireland is equal before the law and has equal rights, or by broadening the existing protections to cover more groups).
· INCLUDE a right freely to vote in and be elected at genuine periodic elections held by secret ballot (subject to reasonable restrictions).
· INCLUDE a general principle could be that any electoral system should provide for both main communities to be fairly represented.
· INCLUDE a general principle of inclusive and equitable representation in the Assembly.
· CONSIDER with the Executive a general principle of inclusive and equitable representation at local government level.
· CONSIDER with the Executive a requirement that the membership of public bodies should, as far as practicable, be representative of the
community in Northern Ireland.

On identity, culture and language, the Government proposes to:

· INCLUDE the right of the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British or both.
· CONSIDER with the Irish Government associated rights for the people of Northern Ireland to hold British and Irish nationality.
· CONSIDER with the Executive extending the existing duty on public authorities around promoting good relations, so that public authorities would also have regard to the need to promote a spirit of tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect; and to the need to respect the identity and ethos of the two main communities.
· CONSIDER a right not to swear an oath that is contrary to a person’s religion or belief. (The consultation paper asks whether such protection is already sufficiently provided by the ECHR).
· CONSIDER with the Executive whether there are additional language protections that could be included.

On sectarianism and segregation the Government proposes to:

· INCLUDE a duty on public authorities to prevent sectarian violence and harassment.
· CONSIDER where there is a need for additional protections to prevent individuals from being forced out of their home by sectarian intimidation or harassment.

On victims and the legacy of the conflict the Government proposes to:

· CONSIDER a provision about the ongoing investigation of deaths attributable to the conflict.
· CONSIDER with the Executive provision to ensure the needs of victims and survivors of the conflict are addressed. This would need to take account of existing work by the Commissioners for Victims and Survivors on the needs of victims.

On criminal justice the Government proposes to:

· CONSIDER whether there is any provision that might be made about the treatment of suspects and access to lawyers and medical practitioners, to help allay concerns arising from the past.
· CONSIDER whether any further measures are needed to provide support and protection to witnesses, jurors, judges and lawyers.

  • Framer

    At first glance, the NIO has done a serious slimming job on NIHRC’s extravagant proposals knocking out any further discussion of rights on the following:

    Right to marriage or civil partnership
    Education rights
    Freedom of movement
    Right to civil and administrative justice
    Right to health
    Right to an adequate standard of living
    Right to work
    Environmental rights
    Social security rights

    I think this rather means the community and voluntary sector can wind up their campaigns.

    The remaining possible rights seem to be for consideration by the Assembly first.

    Anyway a general election will intervene before any of this gets considered by government again.

  • GFAsupporterbutrealist

    Common sense at last, as opposed to Monica McWilliams’s empire building shopping list of “rights” which are already enshrined in UK law. Never a consideration from Ms. McWms of RESPONSIBILITIES of the citizen in his or her social contract with the state. Now can the NIHRC stop seeking massive funding from the foreign grantmaker Atlantic Philanthropies of Chuck Feeney, long time SF funder and supporter, headed in NI by ex anti-state CAJ head Martin O’Brien ? The NIHRC shd work within its own budget and not seek to fund a long wish list using Atlantic to get around matters. The GFA NEVER, absolutely contrary to Ms. McWilliams’s claims, “mandated” a NI Bill of Rights. It stipulated CONSIDERING whether this was neccessary and suggested priority setting for the NI Bill of Rights. Even Ms. McWms predecessor, Prof. Brice Dickson, has recanted his earlier view that a B of R was needed. Time for Ms. McWms to stop war by other means and pursuing a SF-ish agenda which is not supported by the majority of her own commission, which she ignores.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Currently on P43. So far the document says (and I paraphrase): “The Government believes that it asked the NIHRC to provide us with advice about rights specific to Northern Ireland. Since it went waaaaaaay beyond this, we have thrown out just over half its advice. Other advice will be considered on a UK-wide basis after the general election, and much of the rest is the bleeding obvious stuff that we have no problem supporting as it fits our agenda nicely.”

    But there’s more to read, so that may change…