Friday, September 17, 2010

If they keep asking for it often enough, perhaps they'll get it? Probably not.

From The Irish Times:
The British and Irish governments should sponsor a process between the Northern Ireland parties to bring forward the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, the head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has said.

Prof Monica McWilliams said the commission had given its advice on the Bill in December 2008, but so far had not had a response from Northern parties or the Executive.
For the second day in a row, the only adequate response here is "huh?"- either the journalist has directional issues concerning her arse and elbow or Prof McWilliams is being pliable with the facts again.

Anyway... the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) has been holding its annual conference in Belfast, focusing on the future of human rights in the UK:
In advance of the conference the three UK National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have issued a joint statement calling for the implementation of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The Joint statement from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission reads:

"The three UK National Human Rights Institutions (NI, Scotland and Great Britain) agree that the establishment of a UK Commission to investigate the possible creation of a British Bill of Rights must not delay the process of implementing a separate Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland."
The contributions from Monica and Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, ran along the, by now, traditional lines:

"It's in the Belfast Agreement, it's essential for the Peace Process and there was a lot of dosh work put into it".

The crucial fact that the Bill proposed ran way beyond the remit given to the NIHRC is a truth, rather conveniently, neither here nor there.

Trevor Philips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, unintentionally I'm sure, indirectly hits the target, when he says:
“We fully support the conclusion of the process in Northern Ireland as soon as possible, in order that a robust Bill of Rights can be enacted to reflect their particular circumstances. We also believe it is important to consider the implications of devolution in the development of any Bill of Rights for the UK as the legal and constitutional issues involved are different in all four nations.”
"To reflect their particular circumstances"- almost the exact wording of the relevant section of the Belfast Agreement. Poverty issues; job discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender; lack of educational opportunities are not issues "particular" to Northern Ireland, yet all were covered in the McWilliams' Opus. Those issues which are particular to Northern Ireland, (e.g.Women's reproductive rights) were cowardly ignored. That's the fatal flaw at the heart of the proposed Bill and the reason why there is now next to no chance of it ever being accepted by the UK government.

Philips' second point re the implications of devolution on the development of any Bill of Rights for the UK as a whole is an interesting one which is worth its own post (once I've gathered enough background info!).

Update 1

From Jeff Dudgeon:

""John Larkin, the new Northern Ireland attorney general, fired an Exocet at the human rights industry while guest speaker at the NI Human Rights Commission's (NIHRC) conference yesterday. Inviting him to give the keynote address turned out to be a spectacular own goal for NIHRC.

The chair, Monica McWilliams introducing him reminded the audience that he had given them legal advice on what interpretation should be put on the remit in the Belfast Agreement when working up their advice for the NIO on a bill of rights. She forgot to mention they did not follow his advice. Just as the NIO in its turn did with theirs.

In a lengthy, closely-argued speech John Larkin attacked the worship of many so-called international human rights standards, which NIHRC constantly endorses, as "amounting almost to idolatry." He called for a bulwark against the "over-reaching" Strasbourg court" and cited two "extraordinary" Italian and Slovenian cases as examples of that court losing touch with reality. "Judicial creation" and "Benthamite fantasy" were two of his choice phrases. He also attacked Blair's ill-considered creation of a UK Supreme Court as "unnecessary and more expensive" than its predecessor, the House of Lords. He concluded with a call for a new way of calculating legal aid money going to lawyers which did not sound as if it would be any more popular in the profession than his earlier comments.

Many of the following speakers from Great Britain and beyond tore up their scripts and launched fierce attacks on Mr Larkin whom Monica McWilliams described as "having set the cat amongst the pigeons." She had earlier complained of a "sustained attack by politicans on her UN-accredited organisation" (NIHRC). Shami Chackrabarthi (of Liberty and the BBC) called the Conservatives' UK Bill of Rights proposal "a toxic project" while agreeing that Strasbourg was "not respectful enough of people's faiths".""

Update 2

From Friday's Newsletter:
NORTHERN Ireland's equality and human rights commissions cost almost six times more than their counterparts in the rest of the UK, new figures reveal.
Finance minister Sammy Wilson said he was shocked that between them, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission cost every person in Northern Ireland £5.31 each year.

By contrast, the cost of Great Britain's single Equality and Human Rights Commission is just 90p per person per year
Diseconomies of scale can be used as a partial excuse for that shocking discrepancy... but not SIX(!)times.


Christy Walsh said...

Did you stay around all day? Monica disclosed that all the Commissioners have also tendered their resignations and will leave when she does. Pushed? Jumping? or Bailing out?

Christy Walsh

O'Neill said...

Hi Christy,

No, I wasnt there, I got my info from an "informed source", as they say. "Bailing out" Id say, theyve failed in obtaining their main objective, theres nowhere left to go.

Anonymous said...

The current batch of NIHRC commissioners only had 3 years in office terminating next summer. Monica alone got an extra year which she is not now taking.

Perhaps she feared having too many independent commissioners who would challenge the line.

Christy Walsh said...

Monica announced at the conference that all the Commissioners had agreed to go when she goes, and so have accordingly informed the Secretary of State?

Anonymous said...

She was re-announcing what had been announced on 1 September 2008 by the NIO (see below) - that the other commissioners would all go in 2011. Why she was dressing it up as something new reveals she was up to something but I know not what:

"Reappointments to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward MP, today announced the reappointment of Monica McWilliams as Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; and the reappointment of seven Commissioners...
Monica McWilliams has been reappointed as Chief Commissioner for a further four years; with Jonathan Bell, Thomas Duncan, Colin Harvey, Alan Henry, Anne Hope, Eamonn O’Neill and Geraldine Rice MBE, reappointed as Commissioners for a further three years."

Christy Walsh said...

This is intriguing. When Monica made the announcment, at the Annual Conference, she specifically made it clear that she and her fellow Commissioners had all agreed it best to go together? This implied that the other Commissioners could have continued/renewed their terms of office? ..but chose not too?