With unerring timing on the night of the Hillborough agreement, shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieves rejected any sort of NI Bill of Human Rights in a speech in Belfast. He approvingly quoted a NI blogger Owen Polley for pointing out the serious weaknesses in Monicas approach that probably did for a Bill altogether. But Grieve, highly intelligent and principled as he is and a strong supporter of unionism by the way, went too far in adopting Polleys characterisation that the NIHRC had become a quasi-political pressure group campaigning single-mindedly for a maximalist interpretation of “rights”, which included handing responsibility for socio economic policy to the judiciary’.” Does he include in that both nationalist parties and significant academic opinion? There was always a case for rooting a limited Bill in the society it serves. Instead, we await progress on the Equality Bill and enhanced powers for the NI Equality Commission. In the new atmosphere of fragile cooperation these may stand a better chance of adoption. Rights are nothing to be afraid of. Grieve faces far bigger problems. Conservatives have yet to make their minds up on whether to adopt the present Human Rights Act as the basis of their own British Bill of Rights or to try somehow to restrict the application of the Human Rights Convention. The debate rumbles on within the party and Grieves own position is not entirely secure.
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