NI bill of rights plan questioned

 

There should be no Northern Ireland bill of rights, the DUP said today.

It claimed proponents of “all-encompassing” legislation had failed to mobilise public opinion.

The bill would protect rights and freedoms to which each person is entitled, perhaps including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, to education or to good healthcare.

The DUP response said unionists have traditionally been the defenders of human rights and democracy.

“However the DUP will not defend an expensive and unnecessary grievance charter which would remove decisions from the people, waste public money and distance Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK,” it said.

The principle of a Bill of Rights was part of the Belfast Agreement. A forum which was established to find agreement on what should be included, submitted its findings to the Human Rights Commission in 2008.

A consultation paper on a proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was launched by the North's Secretary of State Shaun Woodward last December. Unionists and nationalists have been divided on the issue.

The DUP said a huge range of issues had been advocated which were neither unique nor peculiar to Northern Ireland and were outside the remit of the planned legislation.

“It is little wonder nationalist politicians are so keen to embrace this erroneous interpretation as it helps to distance our laws and policies from the rest of the UK and becomes in effect a badge of difference,” the document said.

“The effect of these proposals would be to ring-fence certain rights and government activities, thus placing crucial democratic decisions in the hands of non-elected lawyers rather than the wishes of the people.

“The Northern Ireland Executive would not be free to respond to the genuine needs of Northern Ireland when their hands and much of their budget would be tied by judicial decisions.”

Meanwhile, Professor Monica McWilliams, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, said protecting the Human Rights Act was an issue of huge importance.

“Nowhere in the world has the repeal of existing human rights protections been a starting point for discussing a proposed Bill of Rights. It must not be the starting point for a debate in the United Kingdom,” she said.

“The Northern Ireland and Scottish Commissions are agreed that progressively building upon the foundation provided by the Human Rights Act is the only acceptable basis upon which to have a debate.”

PA