Alliance MLA and Deputy Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights Paula Bradshaw has called on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to show political leadership to allow work to develop a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland to continue.
The Ad Hoc Committee was suspended last month when The Executive Office withheld its approval of a panel of experts to advise on the proposed Bill of Rights.
Ms Bradshaw’s comments coincide with the publication of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s Annual Report, which has called on the UK Government to implement its commitment to legislation for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
“It is extremely disappointing that after all this work, the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights is now facing this stalemate over a relatively minor issue,” said the South Belfast MLA.
“We cannot have another wasted process, especially given the overwhelming support for a Bill of Rights and the major issues raised by sectoral groups and individuals who gave evidence. Without the political will to go forward, the process has unfairly raised the expectation of those who have been waiting for a Bill of Rights since as far back as the Good Friday Agreement.
“MLAs heard from a range of groups calling for further protections including people with disabilities, older people, children, ethnic minorities, carers, LGBTQ+ people and many others. The evidence gathered by the Committee highlighted that a majority support not just civil and political rights, but also social, economic and cultural rights as well as environmental rights. However, without an expert panel, none of this work will now be taken forward.
“The Executive Office needs to be held to account on this New Decade, New Approach commitment and should give its approval so work to develop the constitutional document can continue. A Bill of Rights is needed to take our discourse beyond sectarian divides and unite all communities in our society. People have multiple and complex identities and rights are necessary to protect everyone.
“I welcome today’s publication of the Human Rights Commission’s annual report highlighting how much more work is needed to protect rights here and the UK Government’s essential role in delivering a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The need for leadership on this issue extends to a national level and Alliance remains opposed to any appeal of the Human Rights Act.
“We should acknowledge there is much work to be done on rights to ensure everyone in our society enjoys equal and adequate protection. The need to implement a Bill of Rights is clear but we also need to introduce an Equality Bill; ban conversion therapy; improve access to gender-affirming healthcare; support refugees; and so much more.”