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The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has provided advice: Ulster Scots/Ulster British Provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment No 3).

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Advice: Ulster Scots/Ulster British Provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment No 3)

Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April 2021

​Read the Commission’s advice on the Ulster Scots/Ulster British Provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment No 3).

Date produced May 2020.

Below is a summary of the recommendations.

You can also download the full document through the links provided.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) :

  • 2.4 welcomes the establishment of the Commissioner. This is a positive measure that will help realise duties to promote and protect the Ulster Scots language and culture.
  • 2.9 notes the decision to recognise Ulster Scots as a national minority and recommends that this is completed by the UK Government in advance or concurrently with the passage of the Bill.
  • 2.10 advises that the Bill make reference to the designation of Ulster Scots as a national minority within the UK.
  • 2.11 recommends that designation as a member of the Ulster Scots community be premised on the principle of self-identification and guaranteed within the Bill.
  • 2.18 advises that the Office of Identity and Cultural Expression may be the more appropriate body to develop work associated with the concept of Ulster British. It recommends that this aspect of the Commissioner’s remit is given further consideration in consultation with representatives of the Ulster Scots community.
  • 3.4 recommends that clause 78O(2) includes an additional purpose that the Bill aims to promote and protect the language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots tradition in Northern Ireland.
  • 4.3 recommends that the primary role of the Commissioner in clause 78Q is amended to cover both ‘enhance and develop’ and ‘promote and protect’. This language would ensure the Commissioner’s remit is consistent with the human rights framework and those standards referenced within the Bill.
  • 4.7 recommends that, within clause 78Q(3)(a), the Commissioner’s awareness-raising function should be enhanced to include promoting Ulster Scots within wider society. This function should be developed in consultation with Boord o Ulstér-Scotch (Ulster Scots Agency).
  • 4.12 recommends that the effectiveness of Commissioner is enhanced by requiring that public authorities have regard to their advice.
  • 4.15 welcomes the broad mandate of the Commissioner within clause 78Q(3)(b), which includes art and literature as well as language. The NIHRC recommends that other aspects of Ulster-Scots culture including heritage, religion, history, music, dance are also effectively protected by including them within the Commissioner’s mandate.
  • 4.16 advises that the Boord o Ulstér-Scotch (Ulster Scots Agency) is consulted on how the mandate of the Commissioner within clause 78Q(3)(b) is amended, to ensure that the Commissioner’s remit is comprehensive.
  • 4.19 recommends that the list of relevant treaties in clause 78Q(3)(c) is expanded to include Article 27 UN ICCPR and Article 15 UN ICESCR.
  • 4.20 recommends that clause 78Q(3)(c) is amended to explicitly require the Commissioner to promote and protect human rights standards in their own work.
  • 4.21 advises that the correct name of the treaty contained in clause 78Q(3)(c)(i) is ‘Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages’.
  • 4.23 recommends that the Commissioner is required to consult with and take account of advice provided by the NIHRC in respect of clause 78Q(3)(c).
  • 4.26 recommends that the same wording is used for laying an investigation report before the NI Assembly in clause 78Q(5)(b) of Amendment No 3 and clause 78L(5)(b) of Amendment No 2.
  • 4.33 advises that clause 78Q(5) could be strengthened to ensure that public authorities take seriously the findings and recommendations of an investigation conducted by the Commissioner. This could be by making it clearer that the Commissioner has the option to report non-compliance to the Northern Ireland Assembly, mirroring the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003. Or it could be adopting the stronger approach in Welsh Language Act 1993 and enabling a Minister to make enforceable directions on the basis of the Commissioner’s report.
  • 4.34 advises that consideration should be given to inserting specific remedial provisions within the Bill, such as making statutory provision for compensation as is the case in Ireland, or providing the Commissioner with powers to support an individual to take legal action or intervene in cases, similar to the situation in Wales.
  • 4.36 recommends that the Commissioner’s complaints function set out in clause 78Q(5) is widened to reflect the full mandate of this new office.
  • 4.39 recommends that the clause 78Q(5) is amended to include safeguards to ensure that the Commissioner’s investigation function cannot be exercised unreasonably. An example of this approach is provided in Wales.
  • 4.42 recommends that the Commissioner is afforded the power to initiate ‘own motion’ investigations.
  • 4.44 recommends that provision is included for the Commissioner to compel evidence in exercising its investigatory powers.
  • 5.4 advises that further consideration is given to how to ensure the independence of the Commissioner. This could involve expressly stating that the Commissioner shall be independent, as in the Official Languages Act 2003. Alternatively, a balance can be struck by ensuring any government direction to the Commissioner takes into account the Commissioner’s own advice, as is the case in Wales or by amending the Bill to ensure that Ministerial directions are reasonable, have a legitimate aim and are proportionate.
  • 6.4 advises that the Bill clarifies the scope of the duty on the Department of Education and recommends that the duty is extended to the full mandate of the Commissioner, not only language.
  • 6.6 recommends that the Department for Economy is subject to a similar duty, as set out in clause 78R, given its remit in the provision of Further and Higher Education.
  • 7.3 advises that the interpretation of ‘public authority’ within clause 78S is too narrow and advises that the definition of ‘public authorities’ should be amended to reflect section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. In addition, a wider definition must be provided to ensure compliance with European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages reference within the Bill itself.

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