A Bill of Rights will institutionalise sectarianism as a constitutional norm…

Retired teacher, now novelist Michael Gillespie has some thoughts on a recent insert from the Belfast Telegraph on Human Rights… Below the fold he makes clear definitions between freedoms and rights… A stand alone Bill of Rights, he argues, will serve no other purpose than reinforce sectarian divisions… He proposes instead a federal written constitution for the whole of the United Kingdom…

It is held that N. Ireland needs a bill of Rights but will such a bill end the sectarian divisions that exist in the state? The Belfast Telegraph has set out a form of human rights, which is a confused mix-up of rights and freedoms.

Rights and freedoms are concomitant and stand together so they need definition. These definitions are suggested. A right is a claim to something good inherited at conception and realised at birth. A freedom is the mature exercise of the will in the pursuit of either good or evil, the pursuit of evil being restricted by the law. Rights are few; freedoms are many.

Freedoms are of two kinds:

(a) Individual freedom of freedom from, freedom to become, freedom to be.

(b) State freedom, which is qualified by the law.

The realization of individual freedom is dependant upon the level of wealth in the state and of its equitable distribution.

In the Belfast Telegraph there is given the right to an adequate standard of living but does that not mean the freedom to be well fed, well clothed and well housed? There is little purpose in preaching to the poor about adequate standards of living and that they have the right to such. Better to tell the poor honestly that they are living in tyranny of want and freedom will come with the creation of economic wealth and its fair distribution.

A further example of how rights and freedoms stand together is the right to education as stated in the Belfast Telegraph but seen as a freedom there is the freedom to become educated this in turn means freedom to become what the individual aspires to become. The fulfilment of this is dependant on the wealth levels in the state and of its equitable distribution. In the impoverished countries of Africa freedom to become educated is non-existent due to weak economies and to corrupt governments.

The right to life is given in the Belfast Telegraph. Under freedom there is freedom to be– in Hamlet’s sense of being free to exist or not to exist. This throws up the morality of capital punishment. Is capital punishment good or evil? For some there is the right to choose. This right has little meaning.

Under freedom there is the freedom to choose within the law. In freedom to choose there is a choice between good and evil and the law should restrict a choice of evil. So the right to have an abortion is a choice between good an devil. Is an abortion good for the life form in the womb?

A Bill of Rights for N. Ireland is largely academic. It leaves the sectarian sickness of the place untouched. With a Bill of Rights the people will still live in sectarian ghettoes separated by so called peace walls. One community will fete the Queen as Head of State the other President Mc Aleese. One community will fly the Union Jack the other the Tricolour. One community will sing –God Save the Queen the other –Amhran Na bhFiain. One community will travel on a British Passport the other on an Irish one.

A Bill of Rights as given in the Belfast Telegraph will institutionalise all of that as a constitutional norm and is a means whereby those who reject U.K. constitution are cooled into an acceptance of it but with A Bill of Rights there will still be state instability and conflict.

To get at the roots of the problem will require radical constitutional reform whereby U.K. constitution is reformed into a Federal Kingdom Constitution expressed in the National Government of Ireland Act giving Ireland a written constitution as acceptable to the Catholics of Kerry as to the Protestants of Derry but the political will and vision for such reform in the Assembly is sadly non- existent.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty