Ulster Unionist Party Councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon MBE has said that a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is ‘not an outstanding issue’ from the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
Cllr Dudgeon said:
“As the talks process continues, a number of apparently unresolved issues have come into the public domain which require clarification, including a ‘Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland’. Certain myths are being peddled about this by some in political circles and by those who should know better.
“Let`s be absolutely clear, a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is definitely not an ‘outstanding issue’ from the Belfast Agreement. The specific undertaking in the Agreement was for the Government to request the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) to advise on the scope for designing a specifically limited Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The Government fulfilled its obligation by issuing the request. NIHRC duly responded with its report.
“In consequent political discussions between the parties there was no agreement on the need for a local Bill of Rights or on the extensive nature of the possible contents suggested by NIHRC.
“So there is no commitment outstanding from the Belfast Agreement. The Ulster Unionist position remains that the 1998 UK-wide Human Rights Act (HRA) which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law fulfils all necessary human rights requirements especially those relating to individual freedoms. Unionists accept the HRA then, and now, as best achieving the rights commitments in the Belfast Agreement.
"The Agreement cannot be misinterpreted to suit a particular political agenda. No matter how different some may wish the terms of the Agreement to have been in relation to a Bill of Rights, they cannot change what has been written into a legal and constitutional document. To do so would be absolute folly and would potentially interfere with the constitutional protection for everyone in Northern Ireland.
“Achieving political aims through ‘human rights’ and making judges arbiters of progress impedes rather than enhances democracy. It diverts people into a blind alley. We need to start addressing the substantive issues that concern citizens not fixate on process."