On 17 Feburary, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission published its response to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) consultation paper on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

According to the NIHRC website:

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Professor Monica McWilliams stated:

“Legislation of such importance is deserving of greater consideration and analysis than appears to have been invested in the NIO consultation paper on a Bill of Rights. As a national human rights institution, the Commission does not accept this as a genuine effort to increase human rights protections in Northern Ireland.”

The NIO consultation paper is an inadequate response to what should be in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The Commission believes the consultation:
• Demonstrates a lack of understanding of the purpose and functions of a Bill of Rights
• Fails to take appropriate account of international human rights standards
• Appears to be suggesting the lowering of existing human rights standards in Northern Ireland
• Fails to satisfy the minimum common law consultation requirements, and
• Misrepresents the advice given by the Commission.

The Commission’s own December 2008 advice on what should be contained in a BOR for Northern Ireland was previously blogged about by Cian Murphy here.

The Commission’s strongly phrased response is highly critical of the NIO consultation document, which has been the subject of strong criticism by civil society groups and coalitions, such as the Human Rights Consortium, which have carried out extensive advocacy campaigns seeking to bring about a wide-ranging and effective Bill of Rights for NI.

In its response, the Commisison states that it is ‘extremely disappointed at both the tone and content of the NIO consultation paper’ and highlighted that it ‘had expected by now to be in a position to provide Government with detailed feedback on how it ought to take forward the proposals for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland’. Instead, according to the Commission,

The Commission has concluded that it is not possible for a national human rights institution to accept the NIO consultation paper as a genuine effort to increase human rights protections in Northern Ireland.

It will be crucial to see how the NIO, the British and Irish governments and the NI political parties react at this point. Will the NIO respond to the Commission’s criticism or will the BOR simply be allowed fade away by an indifferent and/or resistant political establishment(s)? The answer to these questions should become clearer over the coming weeks.

A full copy of the NIHRC’s response to the consultation document is available here.

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Written by Aoife Nolan