Stephen Farry stated: “Alliance remains committed to achieving enhanced rights protections in Northern Ireland. The long-awaited publication of government proposals, a decade after the Agreement, is a milestone in the process of creating a local Bill of Rights. But, given that the consultation closes in early March, weeks before parliament rises, this consultation is little more than a probing exercise.
“The document is obviously much tighter than the submissions made by human rights organisations. Much of that may appear with hindsight as a diversion, but a costly one that has lost the window of opportunity for legislation.
“Alliance can accept the need to take into account the wider UK and international context. Other processes may address some of the deficiencies in rights protections here. However, it is critical that any new UK Bill of Rights builds upon the platform of the Human Rights Act and does not undermine it.
“Alliance has been particularly sensitive to the dangers of rights being misused to reinforce rather than overcome divisions in society. We are somewhat reassured that the NIO have avoided the temptation to further institutionalise the flawed concept of ‘parity of esteem’. However, the language of the document remains wedded to the notion of a society based around ‘two main communities’ and overlooks the existing and growing diversity within Northern Ireland. There is a clear linkage between the protections of ethnic diversity and reflecting the wider multiple and shared identities within the population. A Bill of Rights should look forward to the needs of an open, diverse society rather than simply trying to avoid the mistakes of the past.”