President says agreement underpins human rights

 

The President, Mrs McAleese, has said the Belfast Agreement represents a major advance in the protection of human rights in Ireland. She said everyone who signed up to the document had agreed that any new institutional arrangements must be complemented and underpinned by "the systematic and effective protection of human rights".

"The issue of human rights is not part of any nationalist or unionist agenda - it is the preserve of all citizens of this island," she said. Mrs McAleese was delivering the inaugural Amnesty International annual lecture at Queen's University Belfast yesterday.

The theme was "Rights and Responsibilities: 50 Years of the Universal Declaration". The President welcomed the fact that Britain would soon complete the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into its own domestic legislation.

"In our jurisdiction, the Government will bring forward measures to strengthen the constitutional protection of human rights - taking account of the work of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and the report of the Constitution Review Group," she said.

"The measures brought forward will ensure at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as will pertain in Northern Ireland. The two governments have agreed to the establishment of new human rights commissions in both jurisdictions on this island. This is an exciting new development. The new human rights commissions will be among the first of their kind in Western Europe.

"However, institutions such as these cannot be expected to address all the human rights issues which are currently occupying governments and the international community. Nor are such bodies intended to replace the human rights organs of the UN or NGOs working in the field."

The President said that while the Universal Declaration had made the world a better place, much remained to be done.

During her visit Mrs McAleese met local community activists as she launched the "New Start Millennium Awards" in the Ashton Centre, north Belfast. She visited St Oliver Plunkett's National School in Forkhill, south Armagh, and opened Bunscoil An Iuir in Newry. She also attended a concert in Belfast's Waterfront Hall to conclude the 40th anniversary celebrations of St Louise's Comprehensive School.