Irish Republican News · November 14, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Human Rights Commission chief in new scandal

The head of the North's Human Rights Commission, Brice Dickson, has defied growing calls for his resignation after further embarrassing revelations over his lack of independence from the British government.

Commissioners Patricia Kelly and Frank McGuinness yesterday increased pressure on Mr Dickson by calling for him to step down.

The long running row is closely tied the loyalist intimidation and abuse of Catholic girls attending Holy Cross Primary School, which is situated near a North Belfast interface.

Earlier this year it emerged that after the commission had agreed to fund a Holy Cross parent in a legal challenge of the policing of the situation.

Bur Mr Dickson privately wrote to the then RUC police chief constable Ronnie Flanagan saying he did not believe the case had merit. Lawyers for the RUC recently used this letter in the ongoing court case to strengthen their defence.

In a response to the growing criticism, the commission published an `Action Plan' in October underlining its commitment to `remaining totally independent of government'.

But leaked emails believed to have been sent by Brice Dickson to commission colleagues how the Action Plan was drafted with the help of `senior figures' in the British government's Northern Ireland Office.

Ms Kelly and Mr McGuinness yesterday rejected the explanation of the handling of the Holy Cross case contained in the Action Plan. They said the NIO involvement further damaged commission independence, and they called for Mr Dickson to `resign immediately'.

Ms Kelly and Mr McGuinness have withdrawn from the day-to-day work of the commission over the handling of the Holy Cross case.

In the leaked emails, Mr Dickson writes: ``I met with senior figures in the NIO this afternoon to discuss our draft Action Plan.

``They had various suggestions for strengthening it, ie for making it more watertight against further criticisms from our critics. I shall incorporate these into a seventh draft...''

Frank McGuinness, who is a former director of the Trocaire charity, said he was shocked by the content of the emails.

``Any human rights commission must value and protect the preciousness of its independence,'' he said.

``When you begin to associate with government then you call into question that independence. Really, what the emails describe to me is the interest to gain approval from the NIO. That demonstrates a willingness to compromise the integrity of commission yet again.''

Ms Kelly, who is also director of the Children's Law Centre in Belfast, said: ``To me, the involvement of the NIO in the drafting of the action plan compromises again the independence of the commission.

``It is also reminiscent of the compromising of the commission in terms of the communication with Ronnie Flanagan. It's interesting that the NIO were the other respondents in terms of the Holy Cross case.''

Sinn Féin said the emails, and the comments of Ms Kelly and Mr McGuinness, reinforced their belief that Mr Dickson should resign and that the commission should be reorganised.

Sinn Féin Belfast city councillor and human rights spokeswoman Chrissie McAuley said: ``We believe (Mr Dickson's) continued position as chief commissioner is untenable and he should resign.

``If he refuses, we believe the British government, which is responsible for appointments, should remove the chief commissioner from his post.''

Three commissioners -- Inez McCormack, Christine Bell and Patrick Yu -- have previously resigned over concerns that commission proposals for a new bill of rights would undermine existing fair employment protections.

In September the same concerns saw a leading US investment official call for Mr Dickson's resignation.

New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi controls an investment budget of more than $100 billion, but is bound by US law to only back those companies which adhere to fair employment practices in the north.

Last night Mr Hevesi, who is visiting Ireland and who met Mr Dickson earlier this week, said: the revelations that the NIO was participating in the drafting of a new action plan made clear that the claims of independence were not true.

``Nothing that happened at our meeting with Prof Dickson and other commissioners had changed my mind that he should resign,'' he added.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News