“The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland consider a Bill of Rights to be important”

Fascinating public attitudes research from Ipsos/MORI, on Northern Ireland public attitudes towards a NI Bill of Rights, was published earlier this week as part of a new report (PDF) from the Human Rights Consortium.

It seems to explode the myth that there is no appetite from the Northern Ireland public for a Bill of Rights or that such appetite only comes from ‘one side of the house’.

In fact, the headline findings from Ipsos/MORI are that:

the vast majority (83% of adults) of people in Northern Ireland consider a Bill of Rights to be important

and that:

there is no statistically significant difference in the importance of a Bill of Rights for NI between Catholics and Protestants.

Break the stats down a bit further, this time by party political allegiance, and we see that DUP (84%) and UUP (83%) voters consider the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland to be every bit as important as Sinn Fein (88%) and SDLP (86%) voters:

One of the contentious issues  – at least among among politicians – about the Bill of Rights has been the question of whether or not it should include protections for social ane economic rights (specifically listed in the context of this survey as rights to education, adequate mental and physical health, adequate accommodation and adequate standard of living).

Do the public share these misgivings? Apparently not.

Nine in ten think that it is important for socio-economic rights to be included in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

Again, there is very little difference in attitudes between different party supporters:

Some NI Bill of Rights sceptics (notably the UUP and, at least at some times in the recent past, the Secretary of State) have argued that rather than legislate for a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights (as per the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement), there should instead simply be a Northern Ireland sub-section of any new UK/British Bill of Rights emanating from the work of Coalition Government-appointed UK Commission. Do people in Northern Ireland support this proposal?

No. 48% back a stand-alone NI Bill of Rights with just half that number supporting a sub-section in a UK Bill. Even among UUP supporters, more (39%) would support a NI Bill over (30%) a NI sub-section of a UK Bill:

What does all this tell us?

That ordinary people – of all political hues – support legislating for a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights.

That ordinary people want to see it offer them human rights protections on everyday issues like education and housing, not just on matters related to the conflict or religio-political divisions. The “particular circumstances of Northern Ireland” (to use the language of the Agreement) which matter to them are the particular circumstances they face in their lives every day.

That a Northern Ireland post-script to a putative UK Bill of Rights, the political context for which is Conservative Party disquiet over interpretation of the Human Rights Act, is no substitute for the real thing – a NI Bill of Rights, as originally envisaged in the GFA and revisited at St Andrew’s. 

That political parties have a mandate and lot of wriggle room from their supporters to go negotiate a Bill which would finally deliver this intention of the Belfast / Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements. With elections years away (unless Peter Robinson really does resign…), renewed commitment from the new Dublin government (Dominic Hannigan TD, new Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the GFA, underlined this when he spoke at Monday’s event at Stormont), and a new NI Human Rights Commission in place, the moment seems right for parties to seriously re-engage and secure delivery.

Disclosure: the research was commissioned by the Human Rights Consortium, a coalition of 193 member organisations from the community, voluntary and trade union sectors, of which I am a Board member. The full report from Ipsos/MORI is available here, while all the raw data is here.

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  • Reader

    I’m not sure that 50% of the population would recognise a socioeconomic right if it was set on a table in front of them, so a lot depends on the exact wording of the question and any cues/clues that were given during the face to face interviews. So it might have helped if Q3 was asked before Q2.
    And the socioeconomic rights actually listed in Q3 seem to amount to a basic statement that a welfare state will exist – not really a controversial issue, until you start to wonder what “adequate accommodation” and “adequate standard of living” actually mean. I assume it’s not detatched villa and winter sun holidays, but that’s only a guess.

  • Of course they do. Nobody is going to vote against more rights, especially if they’re couched in such woolly terms. How important or unimportant is it for socio-economic rights to be included? Which particular socio-economic rights?

    The problem with the previous human rights proposal was not that it existed at all, but that it was overly ambitious. A tip for next time from a well-wisher: stick to what’s included in the ECHR. If you want to add any extras, make sure you can justify them on the basis of NI’s specific circumstances. The complete separation of church and state would be a good example of that. Free houses for everyone would not.

  • Johnny Boy

    Seems pretty meaningless, unless they ascertained whether the subjects grasped what a Bill of Rights was before asking the questions.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Lies, Dammed lies and Vested interest surveys.

  • Old Mortality

    “Nine in ten think that it is important for socio-economic rights to be included in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

    If this is an accurate finding, it staggering and alarming evidence as to how dependency culture has become embedded at all levels of NI society. Of course, it may be purely cynical reasoning that somebody else will be paying for it so why not.

  • There is no evidence that people’s understanding was tested. This makes the survey difficult to take seriously.

  • exsdlp

    what a nonsense survey.

    “Do you support rights”. FFS who would say no?

    I would like to see a survey which said:

    Your rights are alerady enshrined in the European Charter on Human Rights and in the UK Bill of Rights. With that in mind do you think we need an additional, NI based bill?

    Frankly this surbey expects too much intelligence of the respondents.

  • Ceist

    “There is no evidence that people’s understanding was tested. This makes the survey difficult to take seriously.”

    …same logic applies to elections but sure we work with what we have.

  • Reader

    Old Mortality: Of course, it may be purely cynical reasoning that somebody else will be paying for it so why not.
    At least that aspect is easily resolved. Just point out that additional rights in an NI Bill of Rights will be paid for by cuts elsewhere in the Assembly budget, or ultimately by local taxes. We already have similar budgeting for local free prescriptions, reduced University fees and the water service. How many people have even noticed that these are being paid for by cuts elsewhere – so far?

  • Reader

    Ceist: …same logic applies to elections but sure we work with what we have.
    Yep, populist, tribal politicians each offering a populist, tribal manifesto. It’s marvelous that they have collectively managed to put together a programme for government.

  • Tracy

    “the socioeconomic rights actually listed in Q3 seem to amount to a basic statement that a welfare state will exist – not really a controversial issue”

    I disagree, the cuts being imposed by the Con-Dem gov and accepted by the NI Assembly are an attack on our public services and will strip many people here of their basic socioeconomic rights – such as access to healthcare and adequate housing. This is why they need to be protected in a Bill of Rights.

    And I think people need to stop patronising the public and accept that the call for accountability in the allocation of resources is based on the desire to improve the circumstances of the most disadvantaged in our society and to build confidence that our government is acting in the best interests of everyone who resides here.

  • Cynic2

    Lets have a few other questions in a poll

    What would you rather have:

    1

  • Cynic2

    Lets have a few other questions in a poll

    What would you rather have:

    1 a Bill of Rights

    2 more Nurses and Doctors

    3 more modern schools

    4 better care for the elderly

    Now welcome to the real world

  • Framer

    These figures are positively Soviet even reaching 99% in one instance. The proponents of a bill should be embarrassed at such results that convince nobody. All it means is interviewees are agreeing to anything that sounds good.

    The poll summary says “Both communities and supporters of DUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP would prefer a specific NI Bill of Rights rather than being included in a UK Bill of Rights.” This means Alliance Party voters don’t – which goes unstated.

    The problem is the figures don’t even say this, as DUP voters also appear not to prefer a specific NI bill. This makes one further doubt the whole enterprise. (see Q 3 & 4).

    You’d think with all the money the Human Rights Consortium has thrown at this they could at least provide accurate interpretations.

  • Jimmy Sands

    How can something simultaneously be neither important or unimportant?

  • Granni Trixie

    The most “fascinating” thing about the current proposals for a BOR is that it does not propose that “in the particular circs of NI” it does not propiose the right to integrated eduation (given that there are fewer places than children who want to attend integrated ed.”.

  • “… there should instead simply be a Northern Ireland sub-section of any new UK/British Bill of Rights emanating from the work of Coalition Government-appointed UK Commission. Do people in Northern Ireland support this proposal?”

    That % of the sample were aware of what actually may be contained in such a UK Bill of Rights?
    The same percentage of the sample are therefore also able to foretell the future through the medium of tea-leaves or a crystal ball?

    In other words, Mr and Ms J Public are making their final judgement on the provisions of a Bill whose public consultation stage finished only last Friday? Somewhat premature surely?

    It looks more like a pre-emptive strike by the local HR Oligarchs against a perceived external threat to their influence and hegemony.

    And it just happened to coincide with a similar attack by their Scottish Brethren:
    http://tinyurl.com/d8tqv7e

    And re “fascinating things” about our own wee proposed bills and “particular circumstances of N”I is the absence of any proposal to include women’s reproductive rights…

  • Mark

    Cynic 2,

    Just berfore Halloween ,my daughter was complaining about a sore stomach so I brought her the local GP . He took one look at her and told me it was her appendix . He then wrote me a letter to take to the hospital so she could be seen immediately .

    Got to the hospital , handed over the letter so the doctor on call then asked her could she jump and down three times , she could so her turned to me and said no way is it her appendix . He examined her further and told me she had swollwen tonsils and the affection may be affecting her tummy . Calpol and junior Nurofen for 4/5 days as she’d as right as rain .

    I was back up in the hospital 4 days later with my daughter at deaths door . She had a burst appendix …… they operated on her that night …….guess which choice I’d make .

  • aquifer

    Socio-economic rights? Sounds like politics by the back door, politics for would-be leaders who cannot do or believe in democratic politics, an invitation to enlist in a new popular front and depose who exactly?

    Beyond basic food an address and some shelter what is needed for effective political participation? Some funding for parties to compete in the media marketplace and outreach would be nice, when the government pays more spin doctors than newspapers pay journalists. Education has worked wonders in the past, no surprise that the Tories cut it.

    We need protections from ethnic gangs here, in our homes and neighbourhoods. That is the fear that makes our politics toxic and depresses our economy, the unique condition in Northern Ireland.

    Those gangs, whether in suits or sneakers, need to respect the law and feel fear when they conspire to break it, or a sole citizen has no political rights at all.

    Currently the law is for criminals, the feckless and the rich.

    Rights should be our short cut to justice, not a wish list.

  • exsdlp

    The human rights lobby, like their sponsors in Amnesty and the (excuse while I throw up), Human Rights Consortium, are so far removed from everyday life that it’s pathetic.

  • Cynic2

    ” it does not propiose the right to integrated education”

    I suspect that you cant do this as it might contravene the right of themus not to want integrated education with oursuns

  • Cynic2

    “We need protections from ethnic gangs here, in our homes and neighbourhoods.”

    Funny. that doesn’t rate a mention. But I am sure they will add it to the list

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mark, I hear ye with the wee one and perforated appendix masks other more unpleasant conditions…(Sorry Mick in advance) Other than a very caring wee GP and my own belligerence a certain lovely wee girl of my own wouldn’t be alive right now….

  • I attended a fringe meeting at SDLP Conference in 2010. Sponsored by the Human Rights Consortium and indeed Patrick Corrigan was a speaker at that event.
    Also Colin Harvey from the Human Rights Commission.

    I asked the question at that Fringe Meeting ……even more relevant now ……..as it was a year ago…….what exactly has the Human Rights Commission established in 1998 or 1999 to oversee this very Bill of Rights been doing for over a decade?

  • Quite revealing the above. In short if you have:

    1 A little bit of money start a pressure group.

    2 A bit more money have a survey conducted.

    3 A fair bit of money; bring in consultants.

    2 and 3 are worth the extra money as you have an independent report following which you can

    1 Create a wave: issue press releases and engage the media who are basically lazy;

    2 Wave the “independent” report around in front of lower level decision makers;

    3 Get bought off, or achieve the indefensible.

    Score extra points if all of the above done with public funding.

  • Drumlins Rock

    the survey is a last ditch attempt to flog a dead horse. old chuck feeny it seems is gettin older and throwing his money at manipulating that sector now, so their main cash cow is drying up.

  • Von Manstein

    The European Socialist model of taxing future generations to pay for bigger government is on the wane. Why abuse children yet to be born, by robbing wealth they are yet to create, by ceding greater responsibility to the state for provision, and jurisdiction to the courts for overseeing that expenditure? ‘Important’ or not, is it responsible, sustainable or practicable? Polities are trying to claw back debt subsisted bribes to voting civil servants and non-working state dependents. They appear reluctant to give back anything the over-sized state has given them at this stage. Why grow dependence and expectation when the financial outlook suggests that the European Socialist will have to shrink further?

  • Von Manstein

    *European Socialist state will have to shrink further.

  • aquifer

    “there should instead simply be a Northern Ireland sub-section of any new UK/British Bill of Rights emanating from the work of Coalition Government-appointed UK Commission”

    Yes please.

    I want a handful of extra rights now, not a running sore to undermine local democracy.

  • Thanks for joining the debate. A number of commenters have responded to the Ipsos/MORI survey by questioning the degree of understanding which people have about the meaning of a Bill of Rights or of socio-economic rights, or indeed by suggesting that respondents’ “intelligence” was somehow lacking.

    Hmmm, intersting response. For the sake of argument, let’s say these are fair enough questions, but only in so far as one is going to equally question voters’ understanding of any issue which comes up for public debate and political decision-making.

    Indeed, I would argue that most people have a better grasp of the issues than commenters are giving them credit for. As FJH points out, this debate has been running from at least the GFA in 1998 and the NIHRC ran an extensive consultation process in the decade that followed.

    When the NIO ran its consultation from December 2009 to the end of March 2010, an unprecedented 36,000+ people in Northern Ireland responded, over 35,000 rejecting Shaun Woodward’s meagre proposals and instead endorsing proposals for a substantive Bill of Rights which would include socio-economic rights.

    So, by all means, disagree with the majority of people in Northern Ireland, but please refrain from suggesting they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

    As for the suggestion that a Bill of Rights somehow costs money or would take money away from healthcare or education or the elderly?

    Isn’t the opposite more likely to be true if a Bill of Rights based framework were used to assist in public policy decisions? Such a framework would enhance the fairness and credibility of local democratic decision-making, not undermine it.

  • Reader

    Patrick Corrigan: So, by all means, disagree with the majority of people in Northern Ireland, but please refrain from suggesting they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.
    Patrick. Please explain to me exactly what “adequate accommodation” means. Then please explain to me what an “adequate standard of living” means. I’m a bit left out you see; Apparently 1000 people knew exactly what was meant, and I haven’t a clue.

  • Professor Yattle

    Those 35,000 responses consisted almost entirely of pre-printed freepost leaflets from the Human Rights Consortium, and worked out at under 300 sent back per member organisation.
    These kind of tricks are spin are another major reason why nobody takes this project seriously any more.

  • For a minute there I thought the Belfast Telegraph had commissioned this poll.

  • Reader, the notion of a “right to adequate accommodation” or “right to housing” has been around at least since 1944 and FDR’s State of the Union speech about the need to create a second US bill of rights.

    Since then it has been contained in various forms in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Social Charter.

    It usually equates to commitments around habitable conditions, security of tenure, protection from eviction, freedom from discrimination and the principle that government will commit to the “progressive realisation” of the right for everyone. The right to an “adequate standard of living” takes a similar approach.

    Of course, their exact forms in a NI Bill of Rights would be up to the politicians who negotiate and agree it.

    Prof Yattle, you seem surprised that anyone should have the nerve to campaign actively for better rights protections. That’s not spin, that’s 35,000+ members of the public making the effort to sign and send campaign postcards to respond to a public consultation.

  • Reader

    Patrick – so 1000 people knew all that and I didn’t?
    If you feel that ‘adequate accommodation’ is fully defined by repeated use in different contexts, do you want to have a go at ‘habitable conditions’? For instance; we have the builders in at the moment. The inside of our house is exactly as warm as the outside, but a bit less drafty. Thankfully, the roof is keeping the rain out now. Am I inhabiting “habitable conditions”, or should people be able to go to court to get better conditions than this?

  • Patrick,

    The UDHR is not a justiciable document, therefore it can afford to be sloppy in its construction (indeed, like most international agreements its sloppiness is likely deliberate). If you are going to transcribe these rights into law, you need to be more precise in your wording, otherwise you open the door for activist judges to write law outside the democratic process. If you mean protection from eviction, say protection from eviction, and say under what circumstances. But then you start getting into political territory.

    The problem is that there are human rights and statutory rights. Human rights are those things that nobody can reasonably argue against. Statutory rights, however desirable, are the result of a political compromise – nobody would seriously claim that the right to return a faulty product for a refund within 7 days is a human right. The fear here is that confusing the two concepts will result in judicial mission creep into areas normally regarded as statutory rights, while leaving some truly fundamental rights violations unchanged (the exemption of religious schools from fair employment law is a glaring example).

  • Reader, I imagine that the people responding to the survey have varying degrees of understanding on this issue, just as they would on any political or legal issue.

    Andrew, as I say, the precise framing of any particular rights will be a matter for political decision-makers. I don’t offer a wording here; I’m simply making the point that people think that social and economic rights should be included in a NI Bill of Rights. It’s up to political representatives to agree how that might be translated into law.

  • unicorn

    @Andrew Gallagher

    The problem is that there are human rights and statutory rights. Human rights are those things that nobody can reasonably argue against. Statutory rights, however desirable, are the result of a political compromise – nobody would seriously claim that the right to return a faulty product for a refund within 7 days is a human right. The fear here is that confusing the two concepts will result in judicial mission creep into areas normally regarded as statutory rights, while leaving some truly fundamental rights violations unchanged (the exemption of religious schools from fair employment law is a glaring example).

    No, fair employment law in it’s entirety is exactly like the right to return a faulty product for a refund within 7 days and should be alterable by elected politicians, including being entirely abolished a la Rand Paul. In a perfect world religious discrimination would be permitted but would have no overall effect on life chances. Fair employment law is a necessary evil for a particular set of circumstances as can be seen by it’s arbitrariness. For example, as I understand it, it is lawful to discriminate against a job applicant on the grounds of his political opinions everywhere in the EU except in Northern Ireland. This doesn’t make Northern Ireland “more advanced” just different. Refusing to hire someone in Bonn because they are a member of the CDU is not morally the same as refusing to hire someone in Belfast because they are a member of the SDLP. They are contextually different.

    It would actually be easier to argue that the right to hire a fellow Scientologist to be your chauffeur is closer to being a human right than the equal chance to be a chauffeur for Tom Cruise without having to convert to Scientology yourself is a human right. To my eyes anyway.

    Hence the controversy about the European Court outlawing the practices of such evil organisations as Sheila’s Wheels. Beyond the question of whether it is the correct decision is the question of whether it should really be the decision of a group of judges or the decision of elected politicians?

  • Greenflag

    @ patrick corrigan ,

    ‘Indeed, I would argue that most people have a better grasp of the issues than commenters are giving them credit for.’

    Not much time now nut will do so later but I think you are correct on that argument . When people from NI and indeed elsewhere look at the economic, political and social options facing their societies particularly in the context of the past few years since the Lehman collapse then the result of this questionnaire should surprise no one .

    Will comment further later

    @ Von Manstein

    While the oversized State or as I would out it the incorrectly focused state is part of the problem as is changing demographics , technology and globalisation there is that other ‘elephant ‘ in the room of which even the oversized governments of the world seem helpless to act against in defence of the common interest of the vast majority of peoples and that is the too big to fail financial sevices sector including those banks which are now even bigger than before they were too big to fail.

  • Greenflag

    oops above but not nut 🙁

  • wild turkey

    “When the NIO ran its consultation from December 2009 to the end of March 2010, an unprecedented 36,000+ people in Northern Ireland responded, over 35,000 rejecting Shaun Woodward’s meagre proposals and instead endorsing proposals for a substantive Bill of Rights which would include socio-economic rights.

    So, by all means, disagree with the majority of people in Northern Ireland, but please refrain from suggesting they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.”

    Patrick, as i recall, and indeed may be mistaken, but didn’t some group or consortium opposed to the Woodward proposals conveniently supply pre-printed or pre-written responses for individuals to, ah, just sign?

    if so, it could be argued, that this is a fairly empty and indeed feckless opposition to the woodward proposals. therefore your citation of 35,000 responses rejecting the woodward proposals might be somewhat disingenuous. then again, i might be mistaken in my recollection about widely distributed pre-written cards and statements.

  • wild turkey, see above for previous response…

  • Cynic2

    Wild Turkey

    35000 out of 1.6 million = 2.18%. Lets be generous and double that to allow for the under 18’s.

    So 5% – one person in twenty – felt strongly enough to fill in a questionnaire. That’s about half the membership of the Orange Order

    Reality check – there is no overwhelming demand for this and when people realise the costs that will flow out of services and into the pockets of lawyers they will say NO even more loudly

  • Mr Corrigan

    “As FJH points out, this debate has been running from at least the GFA in 1998 and the NIHRC ran an extensive consultation process in the decade that followed”.

    Lest there be any confusion. I was not praising the Human Rights Commissions stamina……I was actually making a comment about how they were lallygegging about for over a decade and making no progress whatsoever before turning up at the 2010 SDLP Conference to invite the SDLP on board.

    That there are 193 voluntary bodies signed up to the Human Rights “Consortium” beggars belief…….but perhaps they would make more headway if their members in trades unions, human rights groups etc actually lobbied thru membership of a political party rather than pursue their own narrow self interest……except of course when they actually need a political party to “bail them out”.

  • Wild Turkey, or equally you could extrapolate the response figures to see, for comparison (100,000 e-petition sign-ups are needed to trigger a Commons debate) how many people would have responded if this had been a UK-wide consultation exercise… 1.25 million I make it.

    I think David cameron would choke on his cornflakes if, for instance, he had that many people writing in to defend the Human Rights Act.

    FJH: ‘lallygegging’? Love it!

  • “Lallygeggin”……indeed I love it too.
    But I havent done it for over a decade and the public paying me to do it….have I?

  • Mark

    Pigeon Toes ,

    Glad to hear it . There’s a lot to be said for a good GP ………and belligerent Mothers .

  • Greenflag

    ‘There’s a lot to be said for a good GP’

    And also an honest one. I owe my life to an English doctor in an overseas location who being unable to source the cause of abdominal pain admitted he did’nt know and sent me immediately to another doc for a second exam instead of prescribing the usual pain killers . Had he not done so I’d have woken up dead that very night 😉

    Happily twelve stitches and a few days later I resumed my life . Fifty years ago of course I’d have been dead meat and could have been the same today had I had another doc for that first exam . I guess I got lucky.

  • Greenflag

    Back to the thread topic

    @ Framer

    ‘ These figures are positively Soviet even reaching 99% in one instance.’

    Given that over 70% of spending in Northern Ireland originates from the public sector that 99% figure you quote just means that NI people are only too well aware of their ‘dependency ‘ on government . It can also mean by default that they have little confidence in any of the local political parties being ever able to reverse that unhealthy and in that context it’s not unnatural for people to demand more’ rights’.

    @ acquifer

    ‘ Education has worked wonders in the past, no surprise that the Tories cut it.’

    Very true and also true that conservative and reactionary forces everywhere whether it be Tories in the UK or the RC Church in Ireland or the pre civil rights era Southern USA politicians have never been overly keen and very often determinedly opposed to moves to increasing access to higher higher education for minorities , racial or religious or even the poorest classes of majorities. When they’re educated they ask too many awkward questions to which there are too often no answers except those which reflect badly on the ruling elite.

    The other point to bear in mind in 2011 re Education which was not true of British or any other western educational system in the period say 1955 through 2008 is that in the words of the mutual funders or unit trust or investment purveyors ‘

    ‘Past performance is no guarantee of future results’ which point I’m sure exercises the minds of all those graduating from colleges and universities all over the western world bar perhaps Germany and the Scandinavian social democracies.

    The point being in relation to their chances of finding employment .

    ‘We need protection ‘

    And thats what the responders are actually saying . Protection from who though ? The sectarian thugs or the striped suit corporate banksters? Both no doubt .

    ‘Currently the law is for criminals, the feckless and the rich.

    So it appears . Ever wonder why?

    Rights should be our short cut to justice, not a wish list/

    Indeed . Perhaps some well intentioned group may demand a Bill of Responsibilties to match up with a BIll of Rights /

    A right to health care surely ought to be balanced by individuals who will responsibly avoid drinking themselves into stupors and brain addled old age and who will not gorge themselves into obese early morbidity -and who will be respectful of the only body they will ever have and that for just a short time anyway ? And who in the event of failing to maintain their responsibility to themselves will be fined by the public courts and the monies raised will be used to fund their more frequent use of healthcare facilities?

  • simply not worth the paper it’s written on.

  • Von Manstein

    @Green Flag

    I agree. The too big to fail bank issue needs to be addressed in the medium term, but the too big to fail government is perhaps a more pressing matter. Without wanting to expose myself to ‘Godwinesque’ charges – ‘there’s no such thing as public money, only tax-payer’s money’.

    @Reader

    I fear your building work and associated issues of habitation may have to go unaddressed under the brave new world of human right for everything in Northern Ireland. I fear that to a large extent, unless you are on significant benefits or residing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, I doubt that a BoR for NI would swoop to remedy your inconveniences.

    Human Rights are political claims, albeit statutory and framed in ‘rights language’. They deal singularly with the State’s relationship with the citizen and are only enforceable to that extent. They cede erstwhile political and budgetary competence from the political arena to the judicial arena. Political accountability, far from perfect, has years of commentary and refinement. Legal accountability of niche Human Rights claims involve selective arguments made by adversaries in the nigh unattainable forum for Joe Bloggs, the court, and adjudicated upon by an aristocracy who in social policy matters are far removed from the common man, and certainly not best placed to determine what has transpired to be the ever expanding remit of the state, it’s duties, and expenditure, under the guise of right provision or remedying rights infringements.

    Not being a Labour supporter, when Shaun Woodward dismissed (I’m willing to be corrected on the stats) 72 of 74 of the NIHRC BoR’s recommendations, I was pleased that the anti-democratic legal constitutionalists had been shown up for what they are, and their phoney agenda exposed. democracy is most certainly imperfect. But installing a rule by clever people, the elevation of fundamental law designed to bind the political class as the expression of the people’s will, and forge a brave new model for governance build upon ‘human rights’ disgusts me.

  • Von Manstein

    Oh. And by the way. If we can’t afford the state and it’s provision as is – ie. our huge deficit – I doubt the Human Rights luvvies are seriously suggesting that a BoR might actually reduce the deficit? Would it? Or does a BoR implicitly in some people’s mind mean bigger government, bigger spending, greater dependence?

    Paraphrasing Mark Steyn, a government that is big enough to give you everything you want, appears not to be big enough to persuade you to give it back when the bankruptcy of the state is at issue.

    The time for pie in the sky talk about growing the state is over. Human Rights discourse, and particularly the niche industry of a BoR in NI, should humbly accept it’s place in history as a failed model. Big government and enormous cultures of dependency and entitlement has led to the richest countries in history experiencing the biggest sovereign debt crisis ever known. Human Rights was certainly not the sole or main cause of this travesty, but is symptomatic of it’s culture, and as such, has reached the end of the line.

  • unicorn,

    No, fair employment law in it’s entirety is exactly like the right to return a faulty product for a refund within 7 days and should be alterable by elected politicians, including being entirely abolished a la Rand Paul. In a perfect world religious discrimination would be permitted but would have no overall effect on life chances.

    In an ideal world religious discrimination would not need to be outlawed because nobody would do it. What is unique about NI is the method by which discrimination in employment is enforced – membership of a political party can be used as a proxy for religion in NI, so discrimination on that basis is outlawed due to like effect. As you say, this merely makes NI different, not necessarily better. But the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of one’s religion is still a fundamental right, and is not being applied in the case of religious schools – indeed, NI has a specific exemption from this in EU law:


    2. In order to maintain a balance of opportunity in employment for teachers in Northern Ireland while furthering the reconciliation of historical divisions between the major religious communities there, the provisions on religion or belief in this Directive shall not apply to the recruitment of teachers in schools in Northern Ireland in so far as this is expressly authorised by national legislation.

    In other words, the right of teachers not to be discriminated against has been waived in order to maintain the religiously segregated education system.

    Patrick,

    Wild Turkey, or equally you could extrapolate the response figures to see, for comparison (100,000 e-petition sign-ups are needed to trigger a Commons debate) how many people would have responded if this had been a UK-wide consultation exercise… 1.25 million I make it.

    You can only do that if your population sample is truly random. Since your sample was (by definition) limited to a geographical area, it cannot be assumed representative of the whole.

    Von Manstein,

    Human Rights are political claims, albeit statutory and framed in ‘rights language’. They deal singularly with the State’s relationship with the citizen and are only enforceable to that extent. They cede erstwhile political and budgetary competence from the political arena to the judicial arena.

    The judicial arena is just as valid as any other. We have the rule of law, and that means that politicians make the rules, and judges apply them. Human rights law in that sense is no different – it has been passed by due process and is now binding. You do not complain when an unelected judge rather than an elected politician sends a criminal to jail – quite the reverse.

    The problem with “rights language” is that it devalues genuine human rights by confusing them with less fundamental issues.

  • Von Manstein

    @ Andrew G

    I do not complain when judges rule within their competence of applying the law. I take issue with judges extending their common law purview to establish doctrines of higher order or fundamental law. Human Rights sets itself in direct opposition and competition to the democratic process. The doctrine of the rule of law is undergoing a shift led by judicial activism under the guise of human rights. Many ‘Human Rights activists’ can’t wait for the HoL or Supreme Court to declare an Act of Parliament ‘unconstitutional’ and dis-apply it for their own reasoning. If people are confident that this mode of government is superior to our current balance between the rule of law and ‘sovereignty of Parliament’ they should have the courage to admit that their arguments are political in the sense they are advocating a model other than, or significantly different from our current understanding of, democracy. Form a political party! But no. It’s easier to pretend that they are ‘legal’ arguments.

    The argument is that judges are best placed to interpret law and administer justice according to the law. They are not best placed to arbitrate between competing social interests and policy which largely focus on whether the state should or should not be expected to make provision in certain circumstances – decisions that are the bread and butter of any human rights litigation.

    The judicial arena is valid. It should not seek to usurp the political or democratic.

  • Greenflag

    Von Manstein,

    ‘The too big to fail bank issue needs to be addressed in the medium term’

    Unfortunately it has’nt been addressed at all and it looks like the powers that be are either unable or too scared or unwilling to address the issue be it in the USA , UK or the EU . There are those who would say that it should have been addressed before the Lehman collapse and others who can claim that the road to big bank debt induced world recession and monetary instabilty began as far back as the 1980’s and at least as far back as the reform of the Glass Steagal Act signed into law by former US president Clinto which let loose the dogs of financial services sector criminals on the world economy .

    ‘but the too big to fail government is perhaps a more pressing matter.’

    Only in the sense that if governments of the developed world fail to resolve the ‘banks and debt ‘ issue in the still extant democracies such as they are then they run the risk of bringing down the entire system which will in turn let loose even more avaricious dogs no longer subject to the norms of normal political opposition as is usually the case in mature democracies . There is a reason why the Occupy Wall Street movement is not going away and will only grow larger and that reason is the failure of the elected politicians to rein in the power of their financial services and corporate backers on whom they rely for their re-elections.

    NI is a mere subset of a worldwide phenomenon which has seen the world’s effective labour supply quadruple to 4 billion from the 1 billion of a combined USA/EU/Japan/Oceania ‘market’ a couple of decades ago . The competitive pressures exerted on all western economies is having the effect of displacing or dislocating and emisserating large sections of the formerly prosperous or relatively prosperous middle and working classes and put enormous pressure on welfare state systems .

    And while neo conservative politicians and economic theorists such as the followers of Hayek and the newer creative destruction school of economics led by the Chicago school posit a smaller state as the rational solution they of course are accepting that the areas vacated by ‘government ‘ will be adequately filled by private corporations to the benefit of all .

    Quite frankly that is utter horseshite as anyone who knows the history of corporate capitalism or anybody who has read up on the ‘financial services led mayhem’ which was loosed on the world since 2007 can attest .

    there are of course ‘idealists ‘ out there who believe that the ‘welfare state ‘ is the source of all evil and destroys people or turns them into passive serfs ? I would not deny that that might be true in some cases but then a cursory history of the actual world of corporations worldwide would show in their history a history of active ‘serfdom ‘ in the exploitation of indentured labour and slave labour . It was only through legislation enacted by governments that were representative of the people that ‘corporations ‘ were forced to adhere to more humane norms of conduct .

    While a Bill of Rights for NI given it’s recent and not too recent history may or may not make sense -what does not make sense is the now observable fact that elected governments worldwide have sold themselves out to the giant financial corporations and their weapons of financial mass destruction spin off tax havens and 600 trillion dollars derivatised gambling casinos as paper money continues to chase ever greater amounts of paper money while American and European youngsters look forward to a world in which most of them will have a lower living standard then their parents generation and this for the first time in recorded ‘democratic’ history .

    And if in the actualisation of that fact that ‘democracy ‘ has failed to deliver or that capitalism has failed to reform it’s certifiably insane ‘financial services and derivatives ‘ addiction then who should be surprised when the masses rise up for a simpler -more equitable -society where people can live their lives without having to choose between bankruptcy and a life saving operation as is the case in the USA health care scam .

  • Alex kane hits the target today in The News Letter:

    http://tinyurl.com/845qcav

    “There are two types of opinion polls: those which seek specific information (voting intention, viewing habits, shopping preferences etc) and those which seek to reinforce the role or existence of the organisation commissioning the poll. So when a poll was published earlier this week – commissioned by the Human Rights Consortium – suggesting that almost 90 per cent of people in Northern Ireland support a Bill of Rights, I heaved a huge sigh and reached for an enormous pinch of salt.
    The poll didn’t define what was meant by a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. It didn’t explain the difference between such a Bill and existing Human Rights legislation. It didn’t give the background to the group which had commissioned the poll. It didn’t ask respondents whether they thought some of the issues would be better dealt with by the NI Executive and Assembly rather than by a separate Bill of Rights. Instead of asking people to list their own priorities for a Bill of Rights the poll prompted them to express their level of support for the proposed Bill embracing the right to education, the right to mental and physical health, the right to adequate accommodation and the right to an adequate standard of living. In other words, the poll produced exactly the results the commissioning body required: and that’s why it is completely worthless.”