Posts Tagged ‘Northern Ireland’

Human Rights & the UK General Election

April 6, 2010 2 comments

And they’re off! The least surprising news story of the day so far has been that Gordon Brown has made the trip to Buckingham Palace to request that the Queen dissolve Parliament, effective next Tuesday (this is to allow the Digital Economy Bill to be rushed through Parliament in the next six days). A General Election will take place on Thursday 6 May.

There are two key human rights issues that may be affected by the outcome of this election – one of which will be of great concern to human rights advocates in Ireland. These are:

  • the future status of the Human Rights Act; and
  • the campaign for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland (see here, here, here, and here). Read more…

Further updates on the BOR process: the NIAC report

March 30, 2010 1 comment

Following on from Cian’s earlier blog on the response of the DUP to the NIO’s Consultation Paper on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, it is worth noting that 24 March saw the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Committee release ‘A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland: An Interim Statement‘.

Given the political make-up of that Committee, many of those in favour of a NIBOR regarded the NIAC’s decision to carry out such an inquiry as an effort on the part of political actors unhappy with the NIHRC’s advice to have ‘another bite at the cherry’. Arguably, the limited and poor quality consultation document produced by the NIO in response to the NIHRC’s advice rendered this unnecessary. (For a discussion of some of the criticisms made of the NIO document, see here)

Whatever its reasons, the Committee itself does not make an explicit recommendation either in favour or against a NIBOR. Rather it states: Read more…

The End of the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland?

March 30, 2010 2 comments

Tomorrow is the closing date for submissions to the Northern Ireland Office in response to their consultation on the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. We have previously discussed this matter at much length (see Colin Harvey here and myself here). However, the Irish Times is today reporting that the Democratic Unionist Party has called for the plans to be abandoned. Against the backdrop of the upcoming British General election, this is another blow to those who believe that a Bill of Rights is necessary to fully embed the constitutional change wrought by the Good Friday Agreement. Further information on the campaign for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland can be found at

Dickson on the ECHR and Northern Ireland

March 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Congratulations to Brice Dickson, professor of international and comparative law and director of the human rights centre at the QUB School of Law, whose new book entitled The European Convention on Human Rights and the Conflict in Northern Ireland has just been published by Oxford University Press. According to the blurb:

This book provides the first comprehensive account of the role played by the European Convention on Human Rights during the conflict in Northern Ireland from 1968. Brice Dickson studies the effectiveness of the Convention in protecting human rights in a society wracked by terrorism and deep political conflict, detailing the numerous applications lodged at Strasbourg relating to the conflict and considering how they were dealt with by the enforcement bodies. The book illustrates the limitations inherent in the Convention system but also demonstrates how the European Commission and Court of Human Rights gradually developed a more interventionist approach to the applications emanating from Northern Ireland. In turn this allowed the Convention to become a more secure guarantor of basic rights and freedoms during times of extreme civil unrest and political turmoil elsewhere in Europe.

The topics examined include the right to life, the right not to be ill-treated, the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, the right to a private life, the right to freedom of belief, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly, and the right not to be discriminated against. The book argues that, while eventually the European Court did use the applications from Northern Ireland to establish important human rights principles, their development was slow and arduous and some gaps in protection still remain. The book illustrates the limits of the European Convention as a tool for protecting human rights in times of crisis.

I look forward very much to reading this. The ECtHR’s approach to the conflict in Northern Ireland was, in many cases, very ‘light touch’ and deferential although, as the blurb notes, it became more rigorous over time. Although the book deals with the specific context of Northern Ireland I am sure that the theories and arguments will be generalisable beyond that. As NI is one of the main contexts within which the limits and possibilities of the Convention’s capacity to be effective in times of terroristic crisis I have no doubt the book will be of general interest to readers grappling with these difficult questions.

Campbell on Conflicted Democracies, Truth Commissions and the Law

Colm Campbell, a professor at the Transitional Justice Institute in University of Ulster, has just published an article entitled “The Spectre Returns: Conflicted Democracies, Truth Commissions and the Law” in the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues. The whole article is available here and in my view it is necessary reading for anyone interested in how a democratic state confronts systematic (although, as Colm notes, not catastrophic) rights violations in its past. It is also an excellent piece for those who are interested in the ways in which Northern Ireland is moving towards some kind of mechanism for dealing with the aftermath of human rights violations by both the State and other actors and the role that litigation in the European Court of Human Rights plays in that process. Read more…

‘Terrorism’ Returns?

March 1, 2010 1 comment

Over recent weeks we have witnessed something of a resurgence of violence in Northern Ireland that appears to be attributable to the so-called ‘Real IRA’ and ‘Continuity IRA’, which the Irish Times tells us seem to be joining resources. The Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern (left), has now stated that there is a serious threat from this violence not only in Northern Ireland but in the Republic of Ireland as well. What I found particularly interesting in this Irish Times report is the use of the word “terrorist” in relation to recent violence. This is the first time I have seen that word used in relation to these attacks in the mainstream media—previously they were mostly described as ‘dissident’ attacks and ‘dissident’ groups, perhaps as a result of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and the rather resolute feeling that terrorism has no more role to play in this country. In this article reference is made to “dissident groups” and “terrorist incidents” and the headline refers to a “terror threat”.

If past experience is anything to go by, this is not an incidental matter. History teaches us that the use of the label “terrorist” says something very important about how the politico-legal landscape is preparing to react to perceived or actual threats. That reaction is usually to enlarge the powers of the state and reduce some elements of what we see as the standard rights-protections inhering in the criminal justice system. Whether this change in language will continue past this article and penetrate the politico-legal debate remains to be seen but it is certainly an interesting development.

Whither the Bill of Rights?

February 18, 2010 15 comments

StormontToday Aoife Nolan highlighted that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) published their response to the Government Consultation Paper earlier this week. NIHRC wholly rejected the general tone and content of the Government’s paper and pointed out some of its most glaring inconsistencies. It appears from the NIHRC response that the Government has:

  • Attempted to drastically curtail the scope of the Northern Ireland charter by dismissing out of hand any rights (eg social, economic and cultural rights) that cannot be simplistically linked to the Troubles (though many such rights were, of course, violated during the conflict). The Government paper instead claims that such rights should be analysed in the UK rather than the NI context.
  • Engaged in double-think by on the one hand criticising the broad scope of the NIHRC proposals while on the other hand complained that many of the suggested rights are already ‘protected’ by a patchwork quilt of secondary legislation and policy documents.
  • Utterly (and/or deliberately) misunderstood or misrepresented the nature of the project by failing to appreciate that the protection of rights by such a patchwork quilt is not sufficient to meet the aspirations of the Belfast Agreement. It is clear that NIHRC have in mind a constitutional charter, whereas the Government would be satisfied with the bare minimum protection.

One can’t help but think that the proposed Bill of Rights is becoming a ‘political football’ ‘collateral damage’ ‘insert-cliché-here’ in the electoral jousting of the Labour and Conservative Parties. As will be recalled from my previous post here, the Bill of Rights is approaching its due date at a time when human rights is becoming a four letter phrase in Britain. The general tenor of the Westminster debate tends to range from indifference to outright hatred of the Human Rights Act. The idea that Northern Ireland might be about to adopt a charter that goes further than existing law in Britain or Ireland appears to go largely unnoticed.

Read more…

Duffy on a Truth Commission for Northern Ireland

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Aoife Duffy, a PhD student in the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway has just published an article entitled “A Truth Commission for Northern Ireland?” in the International Journal of Transitional Justice. The abstract states:

 A report published by the Consultative Group on the Past (Consultative Group) in January 2009 recommended that a ‘Legacy Commission’ be established for Northern Ireland that would fulfil a reconciliation, truth-recovery and justice mandate. The work of the Consultative Group highlights how international justice norms are interpreted at a local level in a way that takes account of local histories and priorities. This article critically examines the proposed Legacy Commission and finds that the framework outlined by the Consultative Group does not sufficiently challenge discourses of violence that hinder the bedding down of positive peace in Northern Ireland. Universal human rights and justice concepts remain peripheral to this framework, which avoids the type of profound conflict analysis that might advance societal stability and harmony. Instead of challenging the structural and institutional inequalities that underpinned the violence of the conflict in Northern Ireland and opening up new pathways to accessing truth and justice, the Consultative Group’s report advocates a truth-recovery process that is not open to public scrutiny and is couched in the language of forgetting, which begs the question whether this is a genuine attempt to explore sidelined or dissenting narratives of conflict, or merely another forum in which to contain them.

The article is extremely engaging and comes at a time when there seems to be a ratcheting up of activity regarding the Northern Irish processes, with the Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry due to be released soon and the imminent exhaustion of the consultation period on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. It’s well worth a read.

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland

February 9, 2010 4 comments

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission delivered its final report to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 10 December 2008. In the last issue of the European Human Rights Law Review in 2009, Colin Harvey and David Russell offer their thoughts on the report and the consultation process that produced it (Harvey & Russell ‘A new beginning for human rights protection in Northern Ireland?’ [2009] EHRLRev 748). The (relatively brief) article is not a detailed critique (nor could it be – as one of the authors is a co-author of the report) nor a mere summary. Rather, it sits somewhere in between as a sort of Cliff’s Notes for those who need to catch up on the debate (making this blog post a Cliff’s Notes of Cliff’s Notes, á la John Crace’s Digested Read Digested). Read more…

Ahern on Obama’s Nobel Prize and his time as Taoiseach

It is reported in today’s Irish Examiner that former Taoiseach Bertie bertie_ahern_1013Ahern can not understand  the choice of President Obama for this year’s Nobel Prize. (I already posted on the surprise choice of the Nobel Commitee here). Mr. Ahern is quoted as saying that the choice ‘doesn’t make any sense’ and further that President Obama is probably embarrassed by his selection. The quotes come from an interview in Time Magazine with Mr. Ahern (It helpfully notes that Taoiseach is pronounced ‘Tea-shock’). In the article Mr. Ahern blames the media for his decision to step down as Taoiseach noting that they ‘kept after me’ though adding that he would have left office anyway in 2009 . He also considers that the recession can also be put at the media’s door. He asserts that when he attempted to introduce a property tax ‘the media killed me.’ While acknowledging there were mistakes made during the boom years, he would appear to be suggesting that this was largely out of his control and in the media’s. When questioned on whether he would consider running for Irish President he states that he has not considered it

It is in his remarks regarding President Obama that in many ways Mr. Ahern is at his most scathing arguing that if there were prizes for good mood music Mr. Obama would have won two of them and that the prize does not make sense. While I would agree with Mr. Ahern that the choice was ill-judged as I mentioned in the earlier post, it is strange that he is so virulent on the topic. The Examiner article notes that Mr. Ahern was once considered a possible winner of the Prize for his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, one wonders whether this is why Mr. Ahern is so concerned that it only be awarded to those who have achieved something and not on aspiration only.