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We are entering a critical phase in the Brexit process. At this juncture, it is essential that the Government stands steadfast in its commitment to the protection of human rights across the whole island.
Between now and December 16, the European Commission and Council will assess whether “sufficient progress” has been made on the key issues of EU citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland.
If so, talks will move on to include other issues.
Given the lack of clarity in the British stance, no-one expects these issues to be resolved by December 16.
However, all parties will be weighing up evidence of intent and political will. There will be pressure to find positive news on issues like the Irish border.
In the drive to find common ground we must guard against ignoring deeper issues or undermining the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
The GFA was about more than just bilateral trade-offs between states.
It was about more than ending conflict. It was fundamentally about building a society based on the principles of human rights, equality and dignity.
The society contemplated in the GFA remains a work in progress. Northern Ireland, like the Republic, remains an unequal society with many human rights challenges.
However, the British government proposes to withdraw from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as soon as Brexit happens and repeal the Human Rights Act, by which the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into UK law once Brexit is complete.
There needs to be assurances that all who live in Northern Ireland will retain the protection of those human rights treaties currently in force.
Northern Irish citizens must be guaranteed the right to hold both British citizenship and Irish and EU citizenship without any difference in treatment. There must also be assurances that the rights of non-EU citizens living in Northern Ireland will not suffer.
Over the next month political decisions will be taken that will determine the future of this island. We must ensure that the voice of the communities who require protection of their human rights are heard.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, along with other civil society organisations, will provide a platform for those concerned with these human rights issues to make their voices heard and we would encourage others to do likewise.
Dr Colin Harvey
Professor of Human Rights Law
Irish Council for Civil Liberties
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