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Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP to focus on Gender Equality at NIHRC Annual Statement 2017

11 Dec 2017

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP to focus on Gender Equality at NIHRC Annual Statement 2017

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is launching its Annual Statement on Monday 11 December and is delighted to welcome the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP who will deliver a key note speech on the role of women in public and political life. The Annual Statement is an assessment of developments affecting human rights protections in NI throughout 2017.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Harriet Harman to our flagship event. Harriet will speak on an important contemporary issue. The Commission itself remains concerned over the continued under-representation of women in public and political life in Northern Ireland. While we have seen an increase in the number of female elected representatives, a gender equality strategy remains outstanding. Such a strategy is needed to promote access for women in other areas of public life, especially in relation to high positions in the civil service and in the judiciary - which show stark gaps - and tackle the barriers causing the under-representation in the first place. We also need to see the UK government take steps towards ratification of the Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women.”

The Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP commented:

“Women in every part of the UK are demanding equality. They are no longer prepared to put up with being second class citizens. Women in Northern Ireland have, like women all over the UK, struggled for their rights. And I pay tribute to the remarkable progress that they’ve made in the last decades. But there is still a long way to go before women in Northern Ireland are on equal terms with men. Men outnumber women in local councils - by 3 to 1. And in Westminster Northern Irish men outnumber women by 4 to 1. That means men making decisions and women on the sidelines. As we look ahead to the centenary of women getting the vote, it’s long overdue for that to change. And women MPs in Westminster feel a new sense of solidarity with women in Northern Ireland and are growing impatient with the old idea that we “mustn’t interfere” in support of our sisters in Northern Ireland. If Northern Irish women call for our help, we will be there to back them up”.

Speaking on the issues in the Annual Statement, Les Allamby added:

“It is difficult to write in a positive vein on the developments in human rights in 2017. There is not a single green light for the UK government, Northern Ireland Executive or any relevant public authority denoting an effective response to addressing specifically identified human rights issues in Northern Ireland. The lack of progress reflects the absence of a working Northern Ireland Assembly throughout this year. Strategies to promote gender equality, improve the circumstances of people with disabilities, and to enhance the lives of LGBTI individuals, as well as to tackle poverty based on objective need, all remain on the drawing board.

“An extremely concerning issue is the matter of children going missing from care in Northern Ireland and the high levels of these children who are at risk of sexual exploitation. Immediate and joined up action by all agencies with responsibility for the protection of our most vulnerable children is needed. There can be no doubt that human rights abuses are taking place. The Commission continues to monitor and support the work of the Police and Health and Social Care bodies, who are seeking to improve an unacceptable situation.”


For further information please contact Claire Martin or 0771 7731873 (mobile).

Notes to editors

1. The launch of the Annual Statement 2017 will take place at the Long Gallery from 12-2pm on 11 December 2017. It is being sponsored by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Robin Newton MBE, MLA.

2. The Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP

Harriet Harman QC MP has represented Camberwell and Peckham in the London Borough of Southwark since 1982. Having obtained a degree in Politics from York University, Harriet qualified as a solicitor. Her first job as a solicitor was at Brent Law Centre in 1974.

When Labour entered government in 1997, Harriet was appointed Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women. She introduced the Minimum Income Guarantee and the National Childcare Strategy.

In 2001, Harriet was appointed Solicitor General and led a drive within Government to make tackling domestic violence a priority. After the 2005 General Election, Harriet was appointed Minister for Justice at the Department for Constitutional Affairs. She also served in Government as Leader of the House of Commons, Secretary of State for Equalities and Minister for Women, where she brought forward the Equality Bill, now the Equality Act.

Harriet was the elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 2007-2015 and has twice served as Interim Leader of the Labour Party in 2010 and 2015.

Harriet is currently the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and this year Harriet became the longest serving woman MP becoming ‘Mother of the House of Commons’.

3. Participation of Women in Public Life-

Public Life: In October 2014, it was found that there was ‘a significant degree of inequality in the gender composition at executive level of the NI public sector: males and females holding 70.8 per cent and 29.2 per cent of all executive positions respectively’. A number of barriers to career progression amongst women in the civil service were identified, including: those related to caring responsibilities, a lack of recognition of work life balance, long hours’ culture and exclusion from informal networks of communication

As of 31 March 2016, 41 per cent of public appointments and 24 per cent of chair appointments were held by women. In the year 2015-16, 37 per cent of applications received for public appointments were from women and 42 per cent of appointments made were women.

In the year 2015-16, 37 per cent of applications for chair appointments were from women and 27 per cent of chair appointments were women.

Judicial Appointments: In 2016/2017, 51 per cent of applicants for judicial appointments (including legal, lay and medical appointments) were female. Of those that applied, 26 female applicants (46 per cent) were recommended for appointment. In September 2017, 46 per cent of those holding judicial office and 31 per cent of those holding substantive court roles were female. According to NIJAC, ‘progress is steadily being made in the representation of women in [NI’s] courts, near or actual equality has been achieved in tribunals and Lay Magistrates’. For the first time in the history of the NI judiciary two women, Denise McBride QC and Siobhan Keegan QC, were appointed in 2015 as NI High Court judges.

Political life

There have been some positive steps forward in Northern Ireland. Elected female representation within the UK Parliament rose from 191 (29 per cent) in May 2015 to 208 (32 per cent) in June 2017. The NI Assembly saw an increase of 50 per cent in the number of women MLAs, from 20 (19 per cent) in 2011 to 30 (28 per cent) in 2016 elections. This rose further following the March 2017 snap election. The actual number of seats that women held following this election fell to 27, but with the reduction in the number of seats available (90 instead of 108), this represented an increase to 30 per cent. In terms of leadership, in January 2016, Arlene Foster, MLA became the First Minister of NI, the first woman to hold this office. Since January 2017, three of the five main parties have female leaders and the last NI Executive was 41 per cent female. At a local government level, 25 per cent of councillors elected in 2014 where women.

4. Children going missing in care-

During the period April 2015 to March 2016, there were 2,679 missing person reports, in respect of 230 children, from Children’s homes filed with the Police Service NI. Of those missing children, 1,247 of those reports related to children who were identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation.

The Commission is aware that the Police Service NI has taken the lead in looking at this area and is working with the Health and Social Care Board to gain a better understanding of risk and with a view to agreeing a joint definition between the agencies. In October 2017 the Commission participated in a Multi-Agency Workshop on children and young people missing from care, to explore appropriate interventions to reduce missing incidents and manage risks for those who do go missing.

The Commission is concerned at the number of children who have regularly gone missing from care and continues to monitor this situation, working with all parties involved. The Commission recommends that the key agencies develop a strategic approach to address the factors contributing to the high number of children going missing from care.

3. The 2017 Annual Statement contains a traffic lights system with the aim of making the document more accessible to readers.

The Commission’s annual statement uses a traffic light system to assist readers.

Red identifies a subject that requires immediate action by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities and the issue may be an ongoing violation or abuse of human rights within NI.

Amber identifies a subject that requires action by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities. The issue may not be at a level that constitutes an ongoing violation or abuse of human rights. Initial steps toward providing an effective response could have already been taken or the necessity of taking action acknowledged by the relevant body. Such actions may have commenced but are not yet completed.

Green identifies a subject that has been acknowledged as requiring action to protect human rights in NI and an effective response has been provided by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities. A firm commitment to address the matter will have been demonstrated and undertaken.

4. List of outcomes categorised by traffic light system in NIHRC 2017 Annual Statement:


There are no green outcomes denoting an effective response to addressing specifically identified human rights issues in Northern Ireland for the UK government, Northern Ireland Executive or any relevant public authority. The lack of progress reflects the absence of a working Northern Ireland Assembly throughout this year.


1. Consolidating, strengthening and clarifying equality protections (Pg.11)

2. Age discrimination (Pg.12)

3. Extension of civil marriage to same sex couples (Pg.13)

4. Gender equality strategy (Pg.13)

5. Hate crimes (Pg.14)

6. Intersectional multiple discrimination (Pg.15)

7. Persons with disabilities (Pg.15)

8. Religious tolerance (Pg.16)

9. Sectarianism (Pg.17)

10. Sexual Orientation Strategy (Pg.18)

11. Inquiries Act 2005 (Pg.22)

12. Rule of law: non-state actors (Pg.25)

13. Alternatives to imprisonment (Pg.28)

14. Definition of terrorism (Pg.29)

15. Imprisonment for fine default (Pg.30)

16. Imprisonment of children with adults (Pg.31)

17. Powers of arrest under the Terrorism Act 2000 (Pg.32)

18. Women in prison (Pg.34)

19. Abuse in health and social care settings (Pg.36)

20. Allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment overseas (Pg.37)

21. Deprivation of citizenship (Pg.40)

22. Domestic violence (Pg.42)

23. Female genital mutilation (Pg.46)

24. Historical abuse of children and adults (Pg.47)

25. Mechanisms to identify victims of torture detained in immigration facilities (Pg.49)

26. Prison review and conditions (Pg.50)

27. Strip searches (Pg.51)

28. Refugee crisis: Syria and elsewhere (Pg.52)

29. Child sexual exploitation (Pg.56)

30. Modern slavery and human trafficking (Pg.57)

31. Access to justice (Pg.59)

32. Avoidable delay (Pg.61)

33. Closed material proceedings (Pg.61)

34. Non-jury trials (Pg.63)

35. Witness Charter (Pg.64)

36. Alternative care arrangements for children (Pg.65)

37. Environmental regulation (Pg.67)

38. Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Act 2016 (Pg.67)

39. Stop and search (Pg.68)

40. Blasphemy (Pg.70)

41. Defamation (Pg.71)

42. Parades and protests (Pg.71)

43. Participation of women in public and political life (Pg.72)

44. Accessible childcare (Pg.75)

45. Armed Forces Covenant (Pg.76)

46. Children in the armed forces (Pg.78)

47. Gender pay gap (Pg.79)

48. Carers (Pg.81)

49. Child poverty strategy (Pg.82)

50. Crisis fund (Pg.83)

51. Homelessness (Pg.84)

52. Reduction in asylum financial support (Pg.87)

53. Social housing (Pg.88)

54. Social security (Pg.90)

55. Travellers accommodation (Pg.93)

56. Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2005 (Pg.95)

57. Access to healthcare for irregular migrants (Pg.96)

58. Emergency healthcare (Pg.97)

59. Mental capacity (Pg.98)

60. Academic selection (Pg.102)

61. Bullying in schools (Pg.103)

62. Educational needs of Traveller children (Pg.104)

63. Shared education (Pg.105)

64. Integrated education (Pg.106)

65. Special educational needs (Pg.107)

66. The Irish language and Ulster Scots (Pg.109)

67. A Bill of Rights for NI (Pg.111)

68. A Charter of Rights for the Island of Ireland (Pg.112)

69. A UK Bill of Rights (Pg.113)

70. Business and human rights (Pg.114)

71. National Human Rights Institution (Pg.115)

72. UK membership of the European Union (Pg.116)


1. Conflict related deaths: transitional justice and individual cases (Pg.19)

2. Legacy Inquests and inquiries (Pg.22)

3. The remand of children (Pg.32)

4. Corporal punishment of children (Pg.39)

5. Child, early and forced marriage (Pg.55)

6. Children missing from care (Pg.55)

7. Age of criminal responsibility (Pg.59)

8. Compensation for a miscarriage of justice (Pg.62)

9. Anti-poverty strategy (Pg.80)

10. Termination of pregnancy (Pg.100)

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