Commission hits out at inaccurate criticism of North's Bill of Rights

Some unionist criticisms of the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland are factually incorrect, the Human Rights Commission claimed today.

Some unionist criticisms of the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland are factually incorrect, the Human Rights Commission claimed today.

A minority report from Commissioner Daphne Trimble alleged additional social and economic rights suggested by the majority had little to do with the principles of mutual respect for the identity of both communities.

But the wife of the former Ulster Unionist leader’s record in attacking the Commission’s advice was raised at Stormont today.

Commissioner Thomas Duncan said: “We on the Commission would take the view that we don’t agree with them (the criticisms).

“We would take the view that we think some of them are factually incorrect and we therefore stand by what we say and we are prepared to defend what we say against what Lady Trimble said.”

He was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs sitting at Stormont.

In December the Commission gave its advice to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), which has to decide the way ahead.

Legislation might include recognition of the right to life and freedom of religion, the right to freedom of expression, to education or to good health care.

There had been political disagreement, with many unionists arguing for a limited definition of rights concerned with parity of esteem and included in the Belfast Agreement, although some nationalists favour a broader remit.

Mrs Trimble and Democratic Unionist councillor Jonathan Bell submitted a dissenting opinion to the NIO arguing the Commission had exceeded its remit after eight other Commissioners voted to back the report.

The select committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Patrick Cormack, said on the face of it the reservations of Mrs Trimble appeared very real.

Her letter in December to the NIO said: “My fundamental difference is that the rest of the Commission has misinterpreted its mandate and that the additional rights suggested by the majority have little if anything to do with the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem.

“This was plainly required to be the essence of our advice, on the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland advice which reflected the reasons behind and the purpose of the Belfast Agreement.”

She also claimed there was insufficient consideration given to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Human Rights Consortium of voluntary groups, which helped the Commission draw up its advice, also gave evidence to MPs.

Member Patrick Corrigan said the recent shooting dead of two soldiers and a policeman by dissident republicans highlighted the need for a strong Bill of Rights.

This last week we have been saying as a united community ’no going back’,“ he said.

“The Bill of Rights is part of that shared vision of society as equality and progress for the whole community.”

Dissident republicans shot dead Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, from London, at Massereene army base in Antrim on Saturday 7 March.

Last Monday night police constable Stephen Carroll was gunned down as he attended a call in Craigavon, Co Armagh.

DUP MP David Simpson asked whether the entire process could be scrapped if there was no cross-community consensus. Labour MP Stephen Pound raised concern about creating a different regime for the North from the rest of the UK or the world.

Commission head of legal services Virginia McVea said: “There are international standards out there and we are seeking to improve what is available in (individual) states.”

Cormack said that sounded more like a codification of behaviour.

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