It contains the presentation made by the chair of the Commission, Monica McWilliams and one of the commissioners Eamonn O’Neill to the Good Friday Select Committee in the Dail.
Several points jump out at me here and I’ve accompanied the relevant quotes with my initial thoughts:
a)Monica McWilliams said:
Although it has taken some considerable time to produce this advice, it has the endorsement, in terms of support for a Bill of Rights, of all the parties in Northern Ireland. That is very good to have in a country coming out of conflict. What is included in the advice may have a diversity of opinion attached to it. However, this is the consensus opinion. Eight out of ten commissioners have agreed on the advice - two dissented. However, eight out of ten give us the right to say it is the consensus opinion of the committee...
The "advice" was supported by all the parties in Northern Ireland?
Did the two "dissenting" voices not have the right to have at least their objections noted on the main report or on a separate "minority" report?
It’s also pertinent to note, according to the transcript anyway, it is the McWilliams/O’Neill interpretation of the reasoning of Lady Trimble and the "DUP member" (it would have nice of them to at least mention his name), Jonathan Bell that is being given. Again, a dissenting or minority report would have allowed them the courtesy of outlining their rationale for dissenting.
b) There was a methodology employed?
We set ourselves very strict methodology in addressing all three parts of the mandate
When dealing with such a wide and subjective area as Human Rights, methodology needs to be so tight that you can hear the pips squeak; however, methodology is only the means, it must obviously produce also a "tight" end product. The end-predict in this case may be described as many things, but "tight" it is not.
c) Eamonn O’Neill said:
I make no bones about stating that manipulation by political parties created many of the difficulties we encountered when we tried to present this at the end. The rest of us are very upset about some of the constructions that have been put on this situation. However, we are convinced that what we have done is genuine. It will stand up to scrutiny. In our view, it reflects the mandate we were given. We would also argue that it reflects what will be good for all the people of Northern Ireland.
It would surely have been a much more positive approach, rather than speculating about dark forces behind the scenes, to actually deal with the specific objections which are mentioned almost as an afterthought (or in the case of Lady Trimble, guessed at).
d) Back to Professor McWilliams:
The DUP member dissented because he took the view that economic and social rights could not form part of the advice on a bill of rights, that political and civil rights were part of the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland and that handing economic and social rights for decision making to the judiciary was taking power away from the Executive and giving it to the judiciary, although we would disagree with his view. Clearly, in Canada, South Africa and other countries that have produced bills of rights, this has not turned out to be the case.
Economic and social rights are not a requirement peculiar to Northern Ireland, independent of the rest of the United Kingdom. Political and civil rights, perhaps (but even there I’m not 100% convinced, political and civil rights surely are or should be universal concepts?) but, of course, there are certainly political and civil right issues that are peculiar to Northern Ireland. Anyway, back to my point, having read the “advice”, it is impossible to see, given the impractical wideness of the categories and definitions in the report, how it would not have been the judiciary and not the legislature which would become the prime authority on economic and social rights. Comparisons with other countries are also meaningless unless the language of their bills of rights mirrors exactly that produced by McWilliams and Co.
When the initial “advice” was issued, someone pretty clued-in to such things said that there would be a whispering campaign of vilification against Lady Trimble on account of her exercising her (human?) right not to fall in with the "consensus". Having read McWilliams summary of Lady Trimble’s assumed objections, I think it’s safe to say there is definitely an undercurrent of, at the very least, resentment there; this line in particular was rather snide:
"We do not know what particular rights Lady Trimble would like to see in a bill of rights."
e) Professor McWilliams further said:
The second person who dissented was Lady Daphne Trimble who, as is well known outside of the commission, represents as a member of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Conservative Party. She clearly has different views to the commission on what should be in a bill of rights and has dissented in terms of how we would implement and enforce the rights. For example, we suggest that the Human Rights Act remain in place and that new legislation should be brought in which includes the Human Rights Act plus our supplementary rights. On issues such as this, she would have a difference with us on the enforcement and implementation but also in terms of the extensive nature of these rights.
I go back to my original and main point, this is only McWilliams’s interpretation we’re relying on here, a dissenting report would have given the two members concerned the right to fully expand on their objections- why were they denied that right? McWilliams then goes on to speculate that possibly one of the problems was over the issue of parading- she then (irrelevantly) tries to argue the case that “parading” requires a “balancing of rights” as opposed to an “inadequacy or absence of rights”. That may be true, but the same criterion hasn’t been applied to other areas they have issued opinion on (e.g. a employee’s non-negotiable, inalienable right recommended in the advice to any employment they so choose surely must be balanced with an employer’s right to choose the most suitable candidate for a position advertised?).
f) But McWilliams isn’t finished with Lady Trimble yet:
For example, Lady Trimble would have a dispute with us on political rights. The Good Friday Agreement spoke to the protection in future of proportional representation in a community as divided as ours. She has a concern that we are enshrining for ever more that particular protection. We say that it falls to the Assembly if it so wishes in the future to lift that protection either from its coalition government or with regard to cross-community votes on contentious issues. If it wishes to remove those in the future, it can do so by cross-party consent in the Assembly and can amend the Bill at some future time.
Sidestepping the thorny issue of whether one is able to vote in a Proportional Representation system is actually a “human right” at all, it is presently (I believe) Westminster not Stormont which has the ultimate say over what electoral system is chosen. So, McWilliams and Co, despite their protests that personal politics were (except for the nasty unionists obviously) left at the door, are proposing a transfer of important sovereignty away from the United Kingdom’s parliament. Secondly, why exactly is present legislative protection of the PR system not sufficient?
I’m a bit stretched for time at the minute to do a complete analysis/deconstruction, but anyone who’s interested in the further unraveling of this saga is recommended to read the rest of the link; you’ll get the obligatory Obama referral and this nice little one liner reply to Sinn Fein MP, Pat Doherty:
Doherty: In that context, there is an onus on the Irish Government, as a senior partner in implementing the Good Friday Agreement, to quickly make clear to the Labour Party Government in Westminster that the legislation needs to be enacted immediately because a delay will create mayhem down the road.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Perhaps Mr. Doherty should go to Westminster and make that point in person...