People must take control of Bill of Rights
The proposed Bill of Rights for the Six Counties is too important an issue to be left only to the Human Rights Commission, the Assembly, the Equality Commission or local government.
This is the message of Sinn Féin Assembly member and party spokesperson on Human Rights and Criminal Justice, Mary Nelis, who this week encouraged full community participation in the consultative process on the Bill of Rights.
She highlighted the fact that in South Africa, before a new constitution and Bill of Rights could be put in place to deliver the social, cultural and economic development necessary to accompany political freedom, firstly had to ensure that the Bill of Rights was owned by the people.
``Like South Afria, we are on the threshold of creating a new Ireland, an Ireland that we all want to own,'' said Nelis. ``In effect, we should not be asking governments, North or South, to give us rights. We must tell them what rights we require.''
She said it came as a surprise, given the stated commitment of both governments to the principles of partnership, equality and mutual respect set out in the Good Friday Agreement, that individual members of the Human Rights Commission have argued that a much narrower interpretation of these principles is possible.
That raised concerns, she said, as to the extent to which any consultative process is genuine and the extent to which individual members of the Human Rights Commission can influence the progress and outcome of the process.
``It would be appropriate to ask who will actually determine the content of the finalised Bill of Rights and whether or not this should be subject to the approval of the public through a medium of referendum,'' said Nelis. She also pointing out that inadequate funding for the commission was stymying the effectiveness of the consultative process.
Mary Nelis is encouraging people to offer their views and opinions ad to this effect she will be hosting a seminar for community groups and human rights activists on Friday, 10 November at 2.30pm in Derry City's Trinity Hotel.