Joint Statement from NIHRC & IHREC
10 May 2016
The two human rights institutions, North and South, have a mandate created by the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement to ensure strong and effective co-operation in the safeguarding of peace, respect and inclusion in communities across the island of Ireland.
The Commissions have been in ongoing discussions on the UK Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with the ‘British Bill of Rights’.
At a joint presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Good Friday Agreement held in June 2015 the Commissions stated that proposals to reduce decisions of the European Court of Human Rights to advisory opinions would have ramifications for the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement and expressed concern that no formal consideration had yet been given to the implications of these proposals on the human rights protections contained in the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement.
The Commissions stated that any legislative proposals should not undermine the commitments contained within the Agreement. A consultation document is expected to be issued shortly after the UK’s EU European referendum has taken place.
A recent meeting of the Commissions’ reaffirmed concerns regarding human rights protection and compliance, recognising that the Human Rights Act 1998 provides essential protection to everyone in the United Kingdom, enabling fundamental rights to be enforced in domestic courts.
This is recorded in the joint advice on equivalency of protections in the All- Ireland Charter of Rights. Any proposals for reform should strengthen and not reduce human rights protections. Furthermore, any proposals must also take full cognisance of the arrangements for devolution within the United Kingdom and the responsibilities taken by the two governments within the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement as an international treaty lodged with the United Nations.
The Commissions also reaffirm subsequent agreements between the two governments and political parties in Northern Ireland alongside the outstanding commitment to create a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland through Westminster legislation building on rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.
The Commissions will continue to work together on this issue and many others in order to effectively fulfil their respective statutory obligations to protect and promote human rights across the island.
For further information please contact Claire Martin on 02890 243987 or at Claire.Martin@Nihrc.org
Notes to Editors
- On June 18, the three national human rights institutions in the UK, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain issued a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- The letter set out the value of the Human Rights Act as ‘providing essential protection to everyone in the United Kingdom enabling fundamental rights to be enforced in domestic court’. The Human Rights Association reflects and is embedded in the constitutional arrangements for the UK. In particular, it maintains parliamentary sovereignty, a primary role for domestic courts in the interpretation of the ECHR and is central to arrangements for devolution in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.The letter is available at this link: http://www.nihrc.org/uploads/publications/NHRI_Joint_Letter.pdf
- In Ireland, the European Convention on Human Rights is given effect through the European Convention of Human Rights Act of 2003.
- The Good Friday Agreement (or ‘Belfast Agreement’ or ‘British-Irish Agreement’ or ‘Northern Ireland Peace Agreement’) was agreed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998. It consisted of two inter-related documents:
- 1.Multi-party Agreement by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland.
- 2.British-Irish Agreement, an international agreement between Ireland and the UK - the legal element of the Good Friday Agreement, where the two Governments affirmed their commitment to support/implement the provisions of the Multi-Party Agreement.
- Under ‘Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity’, a requirement was placed on the Irish Government to ‘establish a Human Rights Commission with a mandate and remit equivalent to that within Northern Ireland’.
- Section 8(i) of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 gave the former IHRC the power to participate in the Joint Committee. This function was reaffirmed in s.10(2)(q) of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014.
- This section also established the Joint Committee of representatives of the two Human Rights Commissions, North and South.