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.

  • Ulick

    “He proposes instead a federal written constitution for the whole of the United Kingdom…”

    Maybe I’m missing something by not reading more carefully but is the last paragraph not proposing a federal constitution for the whole of Ireland? Interesting idea.

    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.

    What is the ‘National Government of Ireland Act’?

  • Ulick

    Or is it a constitution for a federal British Isles?

  • IJP

    It is self-evident to anyone that the masses of American money being spent on promoting a “Bill of Rights” would be much better spent on tackling poverty directly.

    Michael is of course correct that any Bill as currently promoted would reinforce the very divisions upon which the conflict grew.

  • slappymcgroundout

    This would be a good start:

    All political power of this State is inherent in the people and the responsibility for the exercise thereof rests with the people. All government is founded on this authority.

    All persons are free by nature and are equal in their inherent and inalienable rights. Among these rights are the enjoyment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the acquiring and possessing of property. These rights cannot endure unless the people recognize their corresponding obligations and responsibilities.

    No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of the person’s civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, religion, sex or ancestry.

    No law shall be enacted respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest. The legislature shall take affirmative steps to implement this right.

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches, seizures and invasions of privacy shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized or the communications sought to be intercepted.

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury or upon a finding of probable cause after a preliminary hearing held as provided by law or upon information in writing signed by a legal prosecuting officer under conditions and in accordance with procedures that the legislature may provide, except in cases arising in the armed forces when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy; nor shall any person be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against oneself.

    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted. The court may dispense with bail if reasonably satisfied that the defendant or witness will appear when directed, except for a defendant charged with an offense punishable by death or life imprisonment.

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, or of such other district to which the prosecution may be removed with the consent of the accused; to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against the accused; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in the accused’s favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for the accused’s defense. Juries shall consist of twelve persons. The State shall provide counsel for an indigent defendant charged with an offense punishable by imprisonment.

    The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless, when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it. The power of suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, and the laws or the execution thereof, shall never be exercised except by the legislature, or by authority derived from it to be exercised in such particular cases only as the legislature shall expressly prescribe.

    There shall be no imprisonment for debt.

    Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation.

    A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

    No soldier or member of the militia shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner or occupant, nor in time of war, except in a manner provided by law.

    The power of the State to act in the general welfare shall never be impaired by the making of any irrevocable grant of special privileges or immunities.

    The enumeration of rights and privileges shall not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the people.

  • Brian Walker

    No harm in debating it for some long term nirvana but there won’t be a written federal constitution for the whole UK. See both main parties’ contitution al reform proposals. A written or codifed constituion is a very long term Labour aspiration. And while devolution is developing some federal characteristics, no main party will accept a federation, because of the assymtery between England and the rest. It would therefore be good to debate within the realms of possibility.

  • Sean Og

    Not sure about the right to keep and bare arms but otherwise it would do the job! No need to re-invent the wheel.

  • A written or codifed constitution is a very long term Labour aspiration. And while devolution is developing some federal characteristics, no main party will accept a federation, because of the assymtery between England and the rest.

    Any written constitution would have to formalise the relationships between the different nations of the UK, and the asymmetry would make that very difficult.

    I think this is one reason why support for the Union in Britain tends to correlate with support for the constitutional status quo in other respects, while reformists are more likely to be English/Scottish/Welsh nationalists, or at least more devolutionist.

    Thre may be a parallel with Ireland there, in that some writers have suggested that it was the difficulty of reforming the UK as a whole that led some early republicans to become Irish nationalists in the first place.

  • Brian Walker

    Tom, A Bill of Rights is not necessarily a devoltionist instrument. Neither version of a British Bill is.They affectthe balance of power between the courts and the executive and add rresponsibilities the list in an attempt to decribe the essential attributes of citizenship.

  • granni trixie

    IJP: amazingingly, I agree with you!

  • granni trixie

    + But I also think that debates around a BOR (and responsibilities?)have already impacted on our cultural values – people have more understanding of how to behave when there are conflicting rights. Seems to me this change is of more value than a legal document.

  • Michael Gillespie

    Comments

    A Federal Constitution for the whole of Ireland

    Yes That is what is considered in the novel–THE WAY IRELAND OUGHT TO BE– published by Authorhouse and is available from Amazon Books on the Internet or through any book store.
    N.B.In the Act given in the novel indicated the term –The United Kingdom of the Sovereign Nation Of Ireland and Great Britain is used. This needs to be revised as The Federal Kingdom of the Sovereign Nation of Ireland and Great Britain or vice versa

    What is the National Government of Ireland Act?

    My version of this Act can be found in the novel indicated and runs to 20,000 words.

    A Constitution for a federal British Isles.

    No that wouldn’t work; what is evisaged is a Federal Isles of the North Atlantic. c.f. the novel indicated.

    The U.K. constitution is an asymmetrical relationship between England Ireland ( historically ) Scotland and Wales. The Federal Kingdom Constitution with a reformed Crown as Head of state of the Sovereign Nation of Ireland and Great Britain or vice versa is a symmetrical relationship for the Isles of the North Atlantic.

  • Michael Gillespie

    Constitutional Nationalism, The S.D.L.P. and Late Sinn Fein.
    Margaret Ritchie writing in the Irish News 27th January complains that Late Sinn Fein has put on the clothes of the S.D.L.P. and are now constitutional nationalists. The only constitution on offer to Late Sinn Fein and the S.D.L.P. is the unwritten imposed U.K. Union Jack constitution of the assembly where both happily sit.

    Since the S.D.L.P. and Late Sinn Fein are now de facto U.K. Union Jack constitutional nationalists they should fly the Union Jack at their head office and end their party conferences with —God Save the Queen — and advocate to the people of the Falls the Bogside and Crossmaglen to do the same. They should also be prepared to accompany Her Majesty the Queen on walkabouts in the districts indicated waving a Union Jack. All of this highlights the muddle-headedness of the S.D.L.P. and Late Sinn Fein when it comes to an unwritten imposed U.K. constitution in Ireland and Irish Unity

    As some one who is A Federal Unionist – Early Sinn Fein I am realistic about the constitution and Irish unity. To unite the Irish the U.K. Union Jack constitution will have to be reformed to the Federal Kingdom Constitution of the Sovereign Nation of Ireland and Great Britain or vice versa with a reformed Crown for all as Head of State in all Ireland and with a redesigned renamed Tricolour as the Irish National Flag and symbol of the Federal Kingdom. This is a realistic approach to Irish unity and could be achieved through the National Government of Ireland Act by 1916. I wrote to Ms Ritchie and the S.D.L.P about Federal Unionism –Early Sinn Fein in detail but got no reply. Perhaps the lady and the party don’t know how to reply. The fine detail of the necessary reforms can be found in the novel THE WAY IRELAND OUGHT TO BE published by Authorhouse 2007 and is available from Amazon Books on the Internet or through a bookstore.

    Michael Gillespie Derry/ Londonderry