“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.

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan