DUP power play obstructs rights expert, boosts loyalist

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The DUP has been condemned for blocking a committee tasked with delivering on a key aspect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, a Bill of Rights for the north of Ireland.

Under the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal, an advisory panel of experts was to be set up to help finally deliver on the commitment.

However, the hardline unionist party has refused to allow the Panel of Experts by put in place. It is understood the DUP has objected to the inclusion of academic Colin Harvey, a Professor of Human Rights Law at Queen’s University Belfast and a former Human Rights Commissioner.

Harvey is hated by unionists for his involvement in debates in support of Irish reunification.

Amnesty International director Patrick Corrigan said the DUP failure was a breach of the agreement that saw devolution restored last year.

“It is even more concerning if the failure to agree this five-member panel is because of a refusal to appoint someone of the standing of Professor Colin Harvey, a leading authority on constitutional and human rights law on these islands and one of the most distinguished researchers and writers on the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland,” he said.

Sinn Féin has said the block on delivering rights was “unacceptable”.

“The DUP are opposed to equality and to rights. The DUP have made it clear that they are opposed to having a Bill of Rights at all,” said Assembly member Emma Sheerin, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bill of Rights.

“The result is, we have no panel of experts, no progress and we are no further forward on a bill of rights.

“As Chair of the Committee, I am not prepared to tolerate DUP delay in the appointment of the panel of experts or their veto of one well-known and highly experienced human rights expert.”

Meanwhile, the DUP have been ploughing ahead with appointments of their own, naming the prominent spokesperson of a loyalist paramilitary umbrella group to a public body on £412 a day.

The ‘Loyalist Communities Council’ (LCC) is comprised of the UVF, UDA, Red Hand Commando and related groups. Its spokesman, David Campbell, has been named by DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots to the board of the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AfBI).

In the process, an extraordinary claim was made that Campbell has not been involved in any political activity.

Until June, the LCC man was also a board member of the controversial ‘peace charity’ Co-operation Ireland, which counts many prominent unionists as board members.

Its vice chairman is the staunchly pro-unionist former Fine Gael leader John Bruton, and its board has included a number of anti-nationalist figures such as former PSNI Chief George Hamilton, former 26 County Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, former DUP leader Peter Robinson and Britain’s ‘envoy to the US’ Trevor Ringland.

So it was no surprise that its newest appointment, announced this week, is former DUP leader Arlene Foster.

That news also drew criticism on social media. Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard tweeted: “Anybody that knows anything about Arlene or Co-operation Ireland knows this is a perfect fit.”

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