The Stephen Livingstone lecture: Martin O'Brien on securing human rights

I previously previewed Martin O'Brien's delivery of the Stephen Livingstone annual memorial lecture, delivered two weeks ago at Queen's University Belfast.

It was a hugely impressive speech, ranging over an array of issues of current concern and amounting to a review of the state of human rights in Northern Ireland eleven years on from the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement.

Having finally gotten hold of the text of the lecture, I mean to break it down into thematic sections – policing, the administration of justice, the Bill of Rights, dealing with the past, etc – and blog each separately to give readers a chance to consider (and hopefully comment) issue by issue.

First up: O'Brien's thoughts on the challenge of securing and defending human rights. His first point couldn't be more apposite given current party political manoeuvres in opposition to an effective Bill of Rights.

"Human rights – requiring as they do, accountability from those in power, frequently meet resistance. 

Rights must always be pursued, claimed and demanded. 

They are rarely simply given.

In recent times we’ve heard much about the devolution of policing and justice being the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of implementation of the Agreement. 

I want to start out by vigorously challenging that view. 

I do so for two reasons. 

Firstly it’s clearly inaccurate because it ignores the fact that work on the Bill of Rights has yet to reach fruition. 

Secondly, and more importantly it assumes that all those other pieces of the jigsaw that have been implemented are working according to plan and delivering the required change. 

I don’t think that’s a safe assumption."

More to follow…

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