Bill falls short
The Northern Ireland Bill being rushed through the Westminister
parliament this week has been condemned by human rights and
community groups across the Six Counties.
The Bill, which was to allegedly make law the provisions of the
Good Friday Document, has failed to address many of the
document's key equality and human rights issues.
The Bill proposes two new commissions for the north; the Human
Rights Commission and the Equality Commission. Both will be
funded by British government agencies in the Six Counties, thus
inhibiting their independence.
The Human Rights Commission will stand alone, in contradiction to
the all Ireland body proposed in the document. It will not have
the power to prevent the RUC from continuing to use the `national
security' excuse to stop certain people and companies from
getting public jobs or contracts. Nor will it have any remit in
connection with fair employment.
Martin O'Brien, a spokesperson for the Committee for the
Administration of Justice (CAJ) slammed the NI Bill as a
``profound disappointment'' and said, ``It is very serious indeed
that the government has chosen to advance a Bill which fails to
implement the commitments made in the agreement which was
endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland.''
The proposed Equality Commission, which will replace the
Committee for Racial Equality, the Fair Employment Commission and
the Equal Opportunities Commission, has been similarly restricted
in its remit. It will have no power to take proceedings itself on
behalf of a section of the community suffering discrimination. It
will be allowed to encourage individuals to take proceedings
under the anti-discrimination provisions but will not be allowed
to assist them in the action. And even this encouragement of
individuals to seek justice is tempered in the Bill by a clause
which states that the Commission must ``have regard to the
desirability of promoting good relations.''
More ominously, the Bill prohibits affirmative action being taken
with regard to fair employment.
Other proposals in the Good Friday document that are omitted from
the Bill are all eight provisions in connection with enhancing
the status of the Irish language (including the proposal to give
Irish schools equal funding with integrated schools); and
provisions relating to public symbols and emblems on public
buildings being used to promote mutual respect rather than
The public service union, Unison, has criticised the Bill's
proposals as ``weak'' and accused the British government of
throwing away ``with both hands'' the opportunity for people in the
north to have a better future.
Bairbre de Brun, a west Belfast Sinn Fein Assembly member,
confirmed that the party had made a number of suggestions to the
British government to improve the Bill and added that it had to
``reflect accurately the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday