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This is the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission for Northern Ireland submission to Seanad Éireann Special Select Committee on UK Withdrawal from the EU.

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NIHRC and ECNI Submission to Seanad Éireann Special Select Committee on UK Withdrawal from the EU

Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May 2021

This submission from the Northern Ireland Human Rights commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland outlines the scope and significance of Article 2 of the Protocol, which sets out the UK Government’s ‘no diminution’ commitment in relation to certain equality and human rights after Brexit. It also provides an overview of the role of the ‘dedicated mechanism’ and the work of the three Commissions 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.

In addition, we include a number of recommendations that we wish to draw to the Committee’s attention relating to the implications of the Protocol for citizens’ rights and access to public services on the island of Ireland. These recommendations reflect recommendations which the Commissions have also raised with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) in the context of its Inquiry on the Protocol.

The Commissions have recommended:

  • 3.5 that equality law in Northern Ireland is strengthened, simplified and harmonised into a single equality act, and that gaps, including existing gaps between Northern Ireland and Great Britain equality law, are addressed as a matter of urgency; and
  • that Northern Ireland equality law keeps pace with changes to equality rights in Ireland that strengthen those rights, specifically rights that are introduced in the Ireland as a result of EU Directives (that do not amend or replace the Annex 1 Directives).
  • 3.10 The NIHRC recommends that the Common Travel Area and associated rights are enshrined in law by agreeing a comprehensive bilateral treaty between the UK and Irish governments. The NIHRC further recommends that this agreement codifies reciprocal free movement rights and rights to employment, education, health care and justice and security on the basis of maintaining the same level of protection as existed at the end of the transition period and that it is incorporated into domestic legislation.
  • 3.17 The NIHRC advises that the birthright commitment in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998 recognises the right for all the people of Northern Ireland to identify, and be accepted, as Irish or British or both. The NIHRC has recommended that UK nationality and immigration laws be amended to reflect the birthright commitment to identify, and be accepted, as Irish or British or both without any loss of rights or entitlements.
  • 3.27 The NIHRC has recommended that, to protect against the diminution of rights contained in Article 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, Irish citizens maintain the procedural safeguards against deportation contained in the EU Citizens’ Directive and associated case law.
  • 3.28 As the Common Travel Area is built on reciprocation of rights and equality of treatment in both jurisdictions the NIHRC has recommended that consideration should be given to reciprocating the approach of the law in Ireland, which exempts British citizens from deportation, in UK immigration law.
  • 3.31 The NIHRC has recommended clarification that the rights of all people who are entitled to acquire settled and pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021 will continue to be protected and that no one will be subject to any restriction on the basis of not having acquired settled status prior to the closure of the scheme.
  • 3.36 The NIHRC advises that people living and working across the border are in a particularly vulnerable situation as new rules take effect and recommends that support is provided to frontline advisers and to employers to ensure that no eligible worker or self-employed person is left unprotected by the scheme.
  • 3.42 The Commissions recommend that the UK Government recognises the prima facie case for a Bill of Rights reflecting the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, and the fact that this case is amplified by reduced application of the EU Charter.

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