Bill of Rights: let's hear the people

Nearly eleven months on from the handover of the NI Human Rights Commission advice on the Bill to the Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward has still failed to carry out any consultation with the public on the Bill,

Via Tuesday’s debate at Stormont, we’ve heard what the politicians have to say (inconclusively, as it happens – Mark Devenport has more exciting procedural detail).

Now it’s time for the people to have their say.

Unless years of independent polling commissioned by the Human Rights Consortium and the NIHRC is seriously in error (and, if so, I’d like to see some equally independent polling evidence to the contrary), then we already know that ordinary people are broadly in favour of a NI Bill of Rights, including for the protection of social and economic rights issues.

Despite what was asserted by some in the Assembly, while there is a lack of cross-party support for the NIHRC advice on the Bill of Rights, there is clearly no such lack of support at a cross-community level for an effective Northern Ireland Bill.

Indeed, I think there may still be scope to build more cross-party consensus around the Bill of Rights which could go some way to reflecting sentiment among ordinary people.

Perhaps a useful place to start might be by politicians of all hues reminding themselves of the principles in relation to the work of the Bill of Rights Forum, which operated from 2006-08, and to which all the political parties signed up:

“A Bill of Rights is needed to provide strong legal protection for human rights for all the people of Northern Ireland.

The Bill of Rights should be in accordance with universal human rights standards, reflecting the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.

The Bill of Rights must be effective, realistic and implementable.

The Bill of Rights must address the needs of the poorest and most marginalised, recognising that, while the Bill of Rights is for everyone, assisting the poor and marginalised is the surest way of helping everyone.

While the past cannot be ignored but must be taken into account, the present spirit of optimism and hope should be reflected in the Forum’s work and the Bill of Rights should be aspirational and look to the future.”

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