Baby steps for Bill of Rights
Baby steps for Bill of Rights

A proposed Bill of Rights for the Six Counties was published in Belfast this week despite major public differences by its drafters on its main proposals.

This was highlighted by the DUP and the Catholic Church members of the Bill of Rights Forum, taked with drafting the legislation, boycotting the launch of the document in the Hilton Hotel.

The DUP and Catholic Church opposed what they said was the document’s failure to protect the right to life of the unborn child.

In addition, the members were divided on a wide range of other matters as well, with nationalist members generally favouring a broad-focused Bill of Rights and unionists favouring a more limited Bill.

Chris Sidoti, the Australian chairman of the forum, formally handed over the draft Bill of Rights to Monica McWilliams, head of the North’s Human Rights Commission.

Prof McWilliams’ commission, which is also divided on the matter, has until December 10th to consider the forum’s proposals and then in turn publish its own recommendations.

It is planned that a Bill of Rights would be enacted in the London parliament, as it is generally accepted that the northern institutions could not agree a Bill of Rights.

The draft Bill deals with issues such as: equality, the right to liberty, security, and privacy; freedom of thought and conscience, and religion; culture, language and identity; nationality and identity; prisoners; and victims.

Sinn Féin’s Derry representative Martina Anderson welcomed the report, which she said brought the North a step closer to having a Bill of Rights.

Despite the controversary over the report, Ms Anderson said a Bill of RIghts would protect the most vulnerable people in society.

“It provides protections for groups in our society that have been most marginalised,” she said.

“The rights of the disabled, elderly, children, women, ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged, among others, will be safeguarded by a strong inclusive Bill of Rights. It will give redress to those who have suffered at the hands of a public authority. This will include rights on housing, employment and accessing public services.

“The rights contained in the Report are consolidated from various Human Rights documents to which both the Irish and British Government have signed up to, and add supplementary rights, particular to the circumstances in the North of Ireland, in line with the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.

Ms Anderson also called for a consultation process on the proposed legislation to be carried out.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News