Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore calls for delivery on Northern Ireland Bill of Rights

Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline NUJ

I was pleased to be at the Alliance Party conference dinner in the La Mon hotel last night to hear the guest speech from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore TD.

He used it to make a strong call for Northern Ireland party leaders to get round a negotiating table to deliver the long-awaited Bill of Rights. As I don’t see it yet published elsewhere, it’s worth reproducing the relevant speech extract at length:

Just as history is shared between the communities, so must the future be. As we near the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement we must cast our minds forward and look at what can be achieved in the next 15, 25, 50 years. We cannot become complacent. Our work is not done. There remains much which we can do, and should do, and must do. Just as we will be commemorating the past …in the coming years, we must not lose sight of the future of this island.

A shared future for the people of Northern Ireland must be built on a cornerstone of equal respect for the rights of all communities. The Good Friday Agreement provides for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which would be based on the European Convention for Human Rights but also formulate rights which ‘reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem.’ The formulation and enactment of these rights, specific to Northern Ireland, would offer a strong, codified, response to those who allege that this post-Agreement society is not equal and does not respect the rights of all citizens.

We continue to be deeply engaged with the human rights agenda and hear regularly from civil society of the lacunae in human rights legislation. There are many groups who feel strongly that it is high time we addressed this.

Human rights and equality are fundamental to building a stable future for the island of Ireland. They are necessary for a solid, unshakeable, foundation for a lasting peace. A clear expression of these rights in a formal Bill of Rights can act as a touchstone.

Human rights and Equality are not unique, distinct entities; they have application and implications across all of the strands of the Agreement.

Human rights are part of the safeguards for the successful participation of all communities in the political and social life of Northern Ireland; equality of opportunity and parity of esteem are also fundamental to this society.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission were established to ensure that rights and equality are respected, and I commend them for their work now and in the past. However, a Bill of Rights drawn up by agreement between the main parties would set out precisely and formally the rights upon which a shared future can be based.

It is from certainty that trust and confidence is built, and trust and confidence were the cornerstones of the peace process. A Bill of Rights would base rights and equality in certainty and ensure the trust and confidence of the people of Northern Ireland for the future.

Next week we host a conference, as part of our Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 2012, the world’s largest regional security organisation, comprising 56 member states from across Europe, Central Asia and North America. The Conference will reflect on the peace process with a view to the future.

The title of the conference is ‘Shared Future: Building and Sustaining Peace’ and the speakers will be drawn from those who had experience of the process and those who are currently working to enact its provisions.

The Conference is a case-study for the information of others grappling with the challenge of peace, but it will reflect themes which we must continue to engage with ourselves. We have come this far and created a framework for peace, and now is the time to begin to build a concrete peaceful future.

The only way we can ensure that this peace will last is by ensuring that human rights and equality are the basis of all progress.

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  • Drumlins Rock

    4. The new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (see paragraph 5
    below) will be invited to consult and to advise on the scope for defining,
    in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European
    Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of
    Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and
    experience. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual
    respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of
    esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR – to constitute a Bill of Rights
    for Northern Ireland. Among the issues for consideration by the
    Commission will be:
    • the formulation of a general obligation on government and public
    bodies fully to respect, on the basis of equality of treatment, the identity
    and ethos of both communities in Northern Ireland; and
    • a clear formulation of the rights not to be discriminated against and to
    equality of opportunity in both the public and private sectors.

    The consultation was carried out and advice given, the reccomendation were found to be such a complete dogs dinner of a mess even Eamon seems too embarassed to mention it. I take it he is calling for the whole process to start over again? Which is a lovely thought for all those consultants who milked it the last time but I can think of better ways to spend our money, and even Chuck Feeny seems to have moved on.

    Its dead, cremated, and buried in a deep hole with a tree growing on top. Let it Rest in Peace.

  • cynic2

    Absolutely. Our current Human Rights (TM) industry is on its knees since the blessed Monica left!

    Scores of potential Graduates seeking a career in the Human Rights Industry are being denied it by the lack of things to do. It is so bad that we have even spotted a lawyers in Belfast who was not a Human Rights Lawyer (TM)!

    Perhaps the Irish Government will fund all this for us?

  • lamhdearg2

    would the euro one not supersede it anyway.

  • And I recall being at the SDLP Conference in November 2010 when the NI Civil Rights Consortium a body representing scores of voluntary organisations made a presentation at a fringe meeting.

    Now as then I wonder what the commissioners at the Human Rights Commission have been doing. They are a complete waste of space.

  • Perhaps the Irish Government will fund all this for us?

    Which reminds me of one of the unintended and welcome consequences that I forgot to mention re things to relish in a 32 county state- the demise of the local human rights oligarchy.

  • Drumlins Rock

    oneill, think that is starting to happen anyways, with Chuck Feeny either runnig out of money or moving on to another crusade, and the squeeze on finance at Stormont, it may be a pet project of the shinners but not the vote winner it once was.

  • Framer

    I notice Gilmore doesn’t remind us the agreement said any new NI rights were to be equalled in the south – fat chance of that for starters, while NIHRC and the myriad of experts on the BOR Forum couldn’t come up with a single Northern Ireland right on, say, parity of esteem. They all preferred maximalist international rights.
    By the way he must not have known the Alliance Party voted against most of the previous reports.

  • wild turkey

    “Now as then I wonder what the commissioners at the Human Rights Commission have been doing. They are a complete waste of space.”

    FJH. well, i was going to be really helpful and post a link to the approved minutes of various NIHRC meetings. afterall, in their FOI policy they commit to publishing said minutes on their website.

    but ya something? i’ll be damned if i can find them. perhaps the key word here is ‘approved minutes’ and they just haven’t got around to approving them yet as this would require due deliberation, reflection and, ah, transparency?

    “It is so bad that we have even spotted a lawyers in Belfast who was not a Human Rights Lawyer (TM)! ”

    cynic, it’s even worse than that! far worse
    i recently spotted a human rights lawyer (TM) who had his/her hands in his own pocket.

  • cynic2

    “his/her hands in his own pocket”

    ….because they were pulled out of mine at last?

  • JoeBryce

    Can anyone explain why something above and beyond the ECHR is required? I see no need for it.

  • Roy Walsh

    Afraid I’ve to agree with FJH on this, they’re worthless, I’ve addressed certain commissioners, in their building, on the need, or not, for protection of social and economic rights, that was 10 years ago, we’re still waiting.
    That said, and this is not an opener for more politico-badminton, a former Official IRA addressing the Unionist party is to be welcomed, I’d hope other parties here will invite members from the other legislature in Ireland to provide input and advices.
    Yes, Alliance are, per their constitution, a Unionist party.

  • gendjinn

    Surely the Tánaiste’s call and the Taoiseach’s comments on Finucane have nothing to do with the recent poll giving SF a 6% bump?

  • Alias

    If you look at the waffle, it has Iveagh House fingerprints all over it – with the keywords coming out of the UN’s Human Rights Council file.

    It probably sounded good to him, given that no left-winger ever lost support for waffling on about human rights.

  • cynic2

    “protection of social and economic rights”

    Where do those come from? Das Kapital?

  • Nordie Northsider

    Alias wrote: ‘If you look at the waffle, it has Iveagh House fingerprints all over it …’

    In fairness, he may well be speaking from the heart. A Bill of Rights was Workers’ Party policy for many years. At times it seemed to be their only policy.

  • A bill of rights, and a court capable of enforcing it, still is WP policy. One of many!

  • ForkHandles

    Southern politicians really should exercise a bit of common sense before getting involved in NI discussions. Especially the completely stupid ones (discussions not politicians). After reading the quoted speech, all that can be said is that it is a masterful example of a politician talking at length about nothing. Eamon, it is universally recognised that the people involved in the rights industry are trying to justify their jobs in a post PC era. Don’t get involved in the nonsense of the rights industry. We live in a post recession world where bread and butter issues matter. The time were people would listen to the vague emotional cobblers of the PC brigade are gone. You are making a fool of yourself to be associated with these useless people.

  • I’m enjoying the notion that the demand for a Bill of Rights in NI has anything at all to do with what some people here like to denounce as the “rights industry”.

    The demand was first made a serious part of NI politics with the Civil Rights campaign of the 1960s. The mantra that it was not needed was heard from the Stormont regime, which resisted attempts to mirror English anti-discrimination laws on the grounds that they were illegal already. And this from a regime built on discrimination. It was in these circumstances that the demand became prominent. The demand was consistently raised in the following 30 years by various political parties and groups (some converting to the idea later than others – Gerry Adams was of the opinion that a bill of rights had no part to play in his struggle in 1983). Its necessity was accepted in the Good Friday Agreement, What has happened subsequently is not the fault of what people are calling the rights industry, but rather of the political parties that wish to resist it so that it does not limit their freedom of manoeuvre.

    As for the question raised above about social and economic rights, clearly some people have never heard of the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory.

    And there’s something ironic in unionists who claim to represent the values of 1688 opposing a bill of rights. At least there is if you have any grasp of the history of this, instead of being under the illusion that all this began sometime around 1998.

  • Alias

    “Its necessity was accepted in the Good Friday Agreement,”

    It wasn’t. The SoS made a seperate statement saying that his office would investigate if there were any additional rights that were required which could then form the basis for a Bill of Rights.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, the scope of a Bill of Rights is very narrow, being confined to “additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem”.

    It is nonsense to refer to these regional political guarantees as human rights – which, by default, are universal and not determined by local governments or regional administrations.

    “The new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will be invited to consult and to advise on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR – to constitute a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

    Gilmore might have suggested what additional regional rights could promote the local purpose within the narrow remit given above but confined his speech Iveagh House waffle instead.

  • Alias

    Just to add that apart from the requirement that human rights should be determined at the international level and not the local level, the rights given should also be universally applicable and not applicable only to two particular communities in a particular region.

    The use of the grandiose human rights mantra is therefore pure propaganda that is designed to dress and old crow up as a peacock.

  • ayeYerMa

    Eamon Gilmore needs to butt out and stop interfering with foreign affairs. Interference from the Eire government is only putting back all-Ireland relations.

  • cynic2

    Alias

    The problem was that NIHRC fed in part by American cash developed a monster that went far beyond its remit and was never a runner

  • Would that be something like the one in the South?

  • foyle observer

    ayeYerma, try to conceal your bitterness a bit better than that please.

    ‘eamon gimore’ needs to butt out of foreign affairs’. jesus christ, so he should resign should he? i mean he is the Minister for Foreign Affairs after all.

    I expect to see similar remarks about Willie Hague. Know who he is?

  • aquifer

    In Northern Ireland the Bill of Rights needed to establish the primacy of democratic and peaceful methods over violence, guaranteeing and supporting non-violent means of effecting change and protecting individuals from suppression and harm.

    In creating a socio-economic wish list it subverted rather than supported politics, and has thus strengthened the hand of violent men.

    Shameful.

  • “if you have any grasp of the history of this”

    garibaldy, Desmond Greaves was an advocate of the use of rights issues from the 50s onwards. The socialist intention was to sweep away the ‘conservative’ administrations in Belfast and Dublin, if necessary through the use of violence. Once the genie was out of the bottle these socialists became largely irrelevant as we dropped into the familiar tramlines of confrontation and tribal violence.

  • Reader

    Garibaldy: And there’s something ironic in unionists who claim to represent the values of 1688 opposing a bill of rights.
    Except what is being proposed isn’t a Bill of Rights, as such. It’s a Regional Supplementary Bill of Rights. And what was actually put on the table was a set of poorly defined platitudes. So, before demanding support, ensure that what is being offered deserves support.