Flanagan stresses London’s obligations to Belfast Agreement

Minister emphasises governments’ duty to safeguard human rights dimension of pact

The SDLP said they have deep concerns that the DUP is attempting to influence the Tory British bill of rights to create a “right to parade” in exchange for support for their slim Commons majority. Photograph: The Irish Times

The SDLP said they have deep concerns that the DUP is attempting to influence the Tory British bill of rights to create a “right to parade” in exchange for support for their slim Commons majority. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has intervened in the debate over a British pledge to scrap its Human Rights Act by stressing that Dublin and London have an obligation to protect the human rights aspects of the Belfast Agreement.

The Conservative Party’s promise to scrap the Act that incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law has set off alarm bells in Dublin, which believes it could amount to a breach of the Belfast Agreement.

While acknowledging that legislation had not been tabled in Westminster to repeal the Act, Mr Flanagan said that on the broad question of human rights and the 1998 agreement the Government’s view was clear and unchanged.

“The protection of human rights in Northern Ireland law, predicated on the European Convention of Human Rights, is one of the key principles underpinning the agreement,” he said.

Speaking in the Seanad in response to a motion tabled by Fine Gael senator Hildegarde Naughton, Mr Flanagan said protecting the human rights aspects of the agreement was an obligation on the Dublin and London governments “as parties to an international treaty, lodged with the UN, in which the agreement was enshrined”.

He said the Government would follow developments closely and that he would raise the issue with Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers at a meeting next week.

Marching season

In Belfast, SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness said Tory plans to repeal the Human Rights Act would spell “chaos” for Northern Ireland and would have a “deep rooted” impact on the devolution setup.

He expressed concern that the DUP might seek to exploit any change in the law to change the legislation on parading in Northern Ireland. “As we approach the marching season we should take note of the fact that all Parades Commission determinations are subject to the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted through the Human Rights Act,” said Mr Maginness.

“Repealing the basic human rights framework would create a fundamental instability in the commission’s determination guidelines. Furthermore, we have deep concerns that the DUP is attempting to influence the Tory British bill of rights to create a ‘right to parade’ in exchange for support for their slim Commons majority,” he added.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party had long argued for a bill of rights which recognised and respected the diversity of the devolved arrangements in Britain and Northern Ireland. He supported the repeal of the act saying that it has “been abused by criminals and terrorists”.

Meanwhile, the heads of Amnesty International in Britain and Ireland, Kate Allen and Colm O’Gorman, have written to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron expressing “deep concern” that moves to repeal the Human Rights Act could undermine peace in Northern Ireland.