Commissions outline new post EU exit roles at Cross Border Event
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) have heard EU exit concerns human rights and equality from civil society organisations from both sides of the border.
The ‘Rights After Brexit’ virtual event, hosted by the Centre for Cross Border Studies, saw NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby; ECNI Chief Commissioner, Geraldine McGahey, OBE; and IHREC Commissioner, Sinéad Gibney outline the new roles and responsibilities for each organisation post-Brexit.
The human rights and equality bodies highlighted the ‘no diminution of rights’ commitment in Article 2 of the Ireland /Northern Ireland Protocol and the role of the ‘dedicated mechanism’ in overseeing the commitment. They also spoke about their joint work on all island oversight arrangements relating to rights and equalities issues falling within the scope of the commitment that have an island of Ireland dimension.
The three Commissions discussed the impact of Brexit with a number of cross-border civil society and local community groups, including issues related to rights and equality as a result of the UK’s exit from the European Union.
NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby said:
“We welcome the opportunity to engage with community representatives across the island. The Commissions together have a key role following the UKs withdrawal from the European Union to ensure the existing level of human rights and equality protections are monitored and maintained. Engagements like today are vital for us to hear about the practical issues people are facing following the EU exit, especially in border areas and rural communities.”
Anthony Soares, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies commented:
“Given the unique circumstances that pertain to the island of Ireland and the need to safeguard relations within and across these islands, it is vital that communities are aware of the important role of the Commissions in ensuring we all share the benefits of the highest human rights and equality protections possible, and that none of us lose the current protections as a consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This is crucial not just for Northern Ireland, but also for how we relate with one another on a North-South basis. I am delighted, therefore, that the Centre for Cross Border Studies was able to host this event”.
IHREC Chief Commissioner, Sinéad Gibney said:
“Over the last number of months we have put in place arrangements for working together to address the rights and equalities issues falling within the scope of the Article 2 commitment that have an island of Ireland dimension. We are meeting with cross border communities today to raise awareness of the dedicated mechanism, the all-island scrutiny role and to hear and discuss concerns about the impact of Brexit on rights and on equality of opportunity.”
Speaking after the event, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, Geraldine McGahey said:
“Today’s discussion on cross border issues was extremely informative and useful. The session highlighted some of the key issues affecting our border communities and we will use this evidence to inform the work of the Commissions going forward, including our all island scrutiny work. We look forward to continuing to working closely with, and hearing from, cross border communities and groups to ensure the continued protection of equality and human rights after Brexit.”
Notes to Editors
- Protecting Human Rights after the EU exit: As part of the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK Government made a commitment to ensure that certain equality and human rights in Northern Ireland will not be diminished as a result of leaving the EU. From 1st January 2021, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) began their new roles and responsibilities to ensure that this commitment is upheld. Read more here. Watch the explainer animation produced by ECNI and NIHRC here.
- The UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement includes the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol. The Protocol reflects the commitment made by the UK Government to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. In particular, the UK Government committed that the withdrawal will not lead to any diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, as set out in the relevant chapter of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, including in the area of protection against discrimination (Article 2(1). It also commits the UK government to keeping pace with any future developments in specific EU Directives covering equal treatment in employment, self-employment, access to goods and services, social security and freedom from discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin.
- In the context of the Article 2 commitment, The NIHRC, ECNI and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) will work together to provide oversight of, and reporting on, rights and equalities issues falling within the scope of the commitment that have an island of Ireland dimension.
- Schedule 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 confers new functions on both the NI Commissions (ECNI and NIHRC), to enable each to act as part of the ‘dedicated mechanism’ (DM), to monitor, advise, report on and enforce the UK’s adherence to its commitment that there will be no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU.
- The ECNI and NIHRC have produced two publications on equality and human rights after Brexit. The ‘Brexit: Your Rights’ leaflet; and ‘Brexit: Your Rights Short Guide’ which can be downloaded here.
- The NIHRC is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland. Read more about the work of the Commission in its latest Annual Report here. Read about the Commission’s annual statement here.