Setting the Belfast Agreement back on track


Sir, – There will be much reflection on the Belfast Agreement in the weeks ahead. The tone will no doubt be sombre but it need not be despairing.

The values and principles embedded in that agreement remain essential to putting power-sharing back together.

One area continues to be neglected. The foundational values of the agreement included human rights and equality, with steps required and expected on these guarantees. Twenty years on, progress has stalled and in certain respects this society is travelling backwards; socio-economic inequality is only one example.

This is not the place to rehearse the extensive list of absences and unimplemented commitments; they are well known. One that merits renewed attention, among many, is the bill of rights.

The agreement held out the promise that peace might be secured through the proper protection of the human rights of all. As in other areas, the work has been done and there are proposals available from many sources (with reasonable disagreements of principle too).

With the reality of the impact of Brexit for human rights and equality now plain to those who want to look, it is surely time to return to the bill of rights. As the drafters of the agreement knew well, a sustainable, fair and shared society can only emerge when human rights and equality are given their rightful place. Let us start talking to each other once again about the bill of rights. – Yours, etc,


Professor of Human Rights Law,

Queen’s University