John Larkin, N.Ireland’s attorney general (and senior legal advisor to the Stormont Executive) has fired a well-aimed Exocet at the local Human Rights’ industry in Friday’s News Letter:
“I very much and profoundly see myself as a human rights lawyer. Now one can ask: What is meant by that?
“But what I’m very concerned about is two things. One is the trivialisation of human rights; the other is the idolisation of human rights and both are great dangers.”
He says that some people want to “turn that which one wishes into ‘a right’”. He gives an example which he gave at a conference organised by the Human Rights Commission last year.
For example, where people who wear pyjamas during the day and when asked to desist, reply: “This is part of our culture; this is our right”, he says: “I suggest that this is not an area where rights enter into it at all and I think that actually it debases what can be still quite a useful language of rights to refer to issues such as the wearing of pyjamas as a matter in which rights attach.”
Mr Larkin says that he is equally concerned about the “idolification” of rights “which we must unquestionably worship”.
His core argument “that law is not the ultimate answer to every human problem” surely removes a large part of the foundation upon which the ill-fated Bill of Rights and our thriving (and prosperous) Human Rights’ Industry has been based?
And as alluded to in his “It is my human right to wear my jim-jams where and when I like” example, Larkin does have form in speaking truth to unaccountable and irresponsible wannabe power He, in the words of Monica McWilliams, “set the cat amongst the pigeons” at last year’s NIHRC conference by not following the script laid down by the local HR Oligarchy; speaker after speaker from Ulster and beyond subsequently laid aside their own prepared speeches and launched fierce attacks on Mr Larkin.
Interestingly enough Prof McWilliams, when introducing him at that particular soiree, reminded the audience that he had given them legal advice on what interpretation should be put on the remit in the Belfast Agreement when sorting out a workable advice for the NIO on a bill of rights.
The fact that they had not followed that advice (and that the NIO correspondingly had ignored the NIHRC’s) was, understandably, left unspoken.