No equality in new Human Rights Commission
No equality in new Human Rights Commission

The North’s newly-constituted Human Rights Commission has already been criticised for lacking in community balance.

Commissioners with strong links to political parties other than Sinn Féin have all been appointed in a tranche of seven new members announced by British Direct Ruler, Peter Hain.

There were no appointees from a republican background.

Former Assembly member Monica McWilliams of the Women’s Coalition was appointed as chief commissioner. Ms McWilliams takes over from Brice Dickson, who stepped down in February 2005.

Two figures with close links to the SDLP, Colin Harvey and Eamon O’Neill, are among the new appointees.

Alongside Ms McWilliams, new commissioner Ann Hope has links with the Women’s Coalition.

Alliance Party councillor, Geraldine Rice, and controversial DUP councillor Jonathan Bell have also been appointed.

Sinn Féin said that the reconstituted commission would be judged on its results. Caitriona Ruane said that “the worrying thing about this commission is the number of political appointees”.

“Sinn Féin has always said people on the commission should have a strong record as human rights experts. From an initial scrutiny of the new commission, it is ‘human rights-light’.

“Given these political appointees and the British government’s treatment of the commission, Monica McWilliams has an uphill battle on her hands.

“The commission itself will be judged in terms of the outcomes it delivers,” Ms Ruane said.

Ian Paisley Jr said the appointment of Monica McWilliams is “a clear sign of the government’s total disregard for the view of unionists in Northern Ireland”.

Monica McWilliams said that “it is not contradictory for someone committed to human rights to have a strong political activist role”.

Ms McWilliams said she feels “it is a wonderful opportunity for anyone to be given the chance to lead the Commission in drafting a Bill of Rights”.

The Bill of Rights was a major recommendation coming out of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and Ms McWilliam said completing that project “is going to be the major objective of the next Commission”.

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