Bill of Rights must be based on international standards

The Alliance Party participated in today’s opening meeting of the Bill of Rights Forum under the chairmanship of Australian human rights lawyer, Chris Sidoti, and emphasised the need for any Northern Ireland Bill of Rights to be flexible and entirely consistent with international standards.

North Down Alliance MLA Stephen Farry stated: “A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was first raised by Ulster Liberal MP Sheila Murnaghan, back in 1962. Forty-five years on, I hope that the process of devising a comprehensive set of human rights can be brought to a conclusion speedily.

“It is important that any Bill of Rights is realistic. It must not be purely aspirational, but capable of being enforced through own courts. Therefore, care must be taken to ensure that what is devised is capable of being implemented.

“Our Bill of Rights must entirely consistent with European and international standards. Furthermore, the opportunity exists to draw heavily on existing international documents, and to make the rights contained therein enforceable within our own courts. Not only do we not need to reinvent the wheel, there are in fact dangers in trying to do.

“It is also critical that any Bill of Rights is flexible, to take account of changing circumstances and an evolving Northern Ireland. This must be a document for future generations. While the past is important, this document should not become a prisoner of the past, nor should it assume that the shape of the Northern Ireland of today will remain constant. The sheer changes in our society in the nine years since the Good Friday Agreement are illustrative.

“Alliance did express major reservations about attempts to lock a Bill of Rights around the assumption that Northern Ireland is divided into two communities. It is critical that any Bill recognises the growing diversity of this region, the reality of multiple and cross-cutting identities.”


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