16 April 2002, last updated
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Northern Ireland
Human Rights Commission

General:
http://www.nihrc.org/update/new_page_1.htm

Members:
http://www.nihrc.org/files/members.htm

Draft bill of rights:
 http://www.nihrc.org/files/BOR_consultation_summary_index.htm
 

End

16 April 2002


First meeting of the interim Human Rights Commission, 6 March 2001
The Minister for Justice, Mr John O'Donoghue, TD, met with the Commission on the occasion of the Commission's first meeting.  He said amending legislation to increase the number of Commissioners would be published in the current Parliamentary session.  He noted that the "strength of the Commission lies in its diversity".

The Commission will have a wide ranging jurisdiction in the area of human rights and funamental freedoms, according to the Government Press Release.

End

7 March 2001


 


"The left marches on cloaked in the garb of human rights"
 
Article by David Quinn in Sunday Times,
11 February 2001.

"Nobody is against human Rights, right? That's why hardly a voice has been raised in protest at the setting up of..."

Link to Sunday Times article

13 February 2001


Whose responsibility?
A message for every Dáil Éireann Deputy/Senator
 

1.  The Human Rights Act is a mechanism for challenging the Constitution.

2.  There is nothing, for all practical purposes, in the new "human rights" which supports the right to life of the unborn child.

UN monitoring committees, in fact, assert the opposite, in calling for wider availablity of abortion.

See:
UN reports - the common denominator
Has abortion now been legislated for?
3.  In the UK Bourne case (1939), a doctor carried out an abortion, and then challenged the State.  This action ultimately led to the Abortion Act, 1967.

In this country, an equal possibility exists that a doctor could carry out an abortion on an asylum-seeker, and similarly challenge the State.

(This is already hinted at in the last CEDAW report for Ireland)

1. Where would the HRC stand in these circumstances?  Would it (a) support the challenge or (b) defend the unborn child?

2. What would the court decide, given the Government's encouragement of "judicial activism" (1 and 2), and the CEDAW Committee's interpretation?


4.  It is hard to escape the conclusion then, that there is an intention to shift responsibility to the courts for legalising abortion.
 

23 December 2000


A Strange Selection Process
A report in The Irish Times, 18 December, by Carol Coulter, includes the following information:
 
1. There were no interviews.

2. The Committee took the view that they were preparing a shortlist, not recruiting people.

3. The committee did not take account of information concerning any applicant not appearing on the form.


This commission was stated by its President  Mr Justice Donal Barrington, to be one of the most powerful commissions of its kind in the world. (Irish Times, 16 October)  According to s.4.2 of the Act, it is to be independent in the performance of its functions.  Members are to "broadly reflect the nature of Irish society", and they may be appointed for terms up to five years.

All this on the sole basis of what the applicants said of themselves!

No testing of the candidates to establish if their claims were true or not, if they were bringing with them agendas not mentioned, where they stood on the most crucial issue facing society today -  the right to life of the unborn child -, and no external verification of claims or agendas?  (References were subject to verification, but this is of limited value).

What huckster's shop would recruit for a post of least responsibility on this basis?

Yet an alleged 20 organisations, plus the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed themselves dismayed that the results of such a process were not accepted.  Not that anything has now changed.

The Human Rights Commission, and the Act supporting it, are grossly undemocratic creations, and should be ditched in their entirety.

End

23 December 2000


New Zealand's HRC
Based on information supplied by Mr Richard Bennett, NZ HRC, to the Second Annual NGO Forum on Human Rights held at Dublin Casle 26 June 1999, activities include/have included:

1. Entered into a partnership with the disability community to produce training awareness workshops and materials for that community. This was with a view to changing the mindset of people in the disability community from a focus on charity and welfare to a focus on rights.

2. Working with NGO's, universities and teachers to produce teaching materials for schools on human rights.

3. Lobbying and campaigning  on matters relating to:

1. Mental illness
2. Refugees
3. Racism in children's homes (as a result of which most homes were closed down).
4. Anti-discrimination project relating to women in the military.
 

End

22 December 2000




Openness or not? (Opinion)
The Government has now made its selection for appointments to the new Human Rights Commission.

This Commission is not on a par with other semi-state or EU boards. Human rights issues impinge on very many aspects of the public and private lives of citizens.  The HRC is intended to, and will, intrude into all our lives.

Just as many would consider it inappropriate for prospective appointees to the Revenue Commissioners to hold equivocal views about payment of tax, I believe many would think it equally inappropriate, indeed abominable, for anyone to be appointed to a position of authority in connection with human rights, who did not hold clear views on the inviolability of human life.

It is vital then, that candidates openly and honestly declare their position, before they are allowed to take up their posts as Commissioners of Human Rights.  Double talk, evasion and hiding behind words like "choice" is not acceptable.

6 December 2000


Commission to be enlarged - report
Following the expressions of anger at the Dublin Castle Conference on 8/9 December over the change in composition of the new Commission (see NEART news release 11 Dec), and the reported threatened resignation of the Commission President, Mr Justice Donal Barrington, it is reported (Irish Times, 16 December, Carol Coulter) that the Minister for Justice is to propose increasing the membership of the Commission by at least four members.

Amending legislation will be required for this move, as Section 5 (1) specifies that the Commission shall consist of a President and eight other members.

Subsection (3) of the same section specifies that the members of the Commission "shall be appointed by the Government".  There is no indication that the Government might take the opportunity to amend this section also so as to endow this Act with some element of democracy and openness.  It is a requirement that the Government should have regard to the need to ensure that the members of the Commission "broadly reflect the nature of Irish society", (subsection (12)), a requirement that can really only be determined by the people.

The Minister's proposals are to be put to the meeting of the Cabined on Tuesday, 19 December.
 

Comment:

The best course would be to ditch this unnecessary, undemocratic, and illegal Act in its entirety, and to tell the High Commissioner this sort of thing isn't on in a democratic society, or in one that has paid a high enough price for its freedoms.

End

17 December 2000


Conference, Dublin Castle, 8/9 Dec (u/c)

THE CONSTITUTION - THE MINISTER'S DOUBLE-TALK

Extract from the Minister's speech to the Conference on Saturday, 9 December, emphasis added:

"...Ireland is unique among the member States of the European Union and of the Council of Europe, by having a written Constitution which has at its heart, a system of fundamental rights chosen by the people, unalterable save by the wish of the people, and made superior and justiciable at the instance of the individual over all other law, both in theory and practice.   As the 1996 Report of the Constitution Review Group make clear, the Irish Constitution is remarkable in that it is sufficiently flexible and has an inbuilt capacity for organic growth through the medium of judicial interpretation..."
 

Comment:

It would be nice to think that the principles enshrined in the Constitution would be unalterable, and that their application in individual cases is not entirely rigid.  But is this what is meant?

Because a different view, in the case of the UN Universal Declaration, is being canvassed by no less a personage than Mrs Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights. In a speech in Tokyo on 27 January 1998, she suggested that certain "values", including the "complexities" of "gender" and "sexual orientation", are implied  in the Universal Declaration.  There is no need, therefore, to make a new declaration to recognize these values: reinterpretation of the original will suffice.

Professor Brice Dickson, President of the NI HRC, in an address in Dublin Castle on 26 June 1999, urged judges to "imaginative and pro-active" in "internationalising our human rights law".  Constitutional traditions must not be allowed to stand in the way, he said.

The notion of judges making the law instead of the Oireachtas (consequent on giving the ECHR superior status), was discussed, and defended, at the Law Society Conference on Human Rights in October 2000.

So, returning to Mr O'Donoghue's speech, which is it: "unalterable save by the wish of the people", or with a "capacity for organic growth through .. judicial interpretation"?

The latter view would come as a surprise to Éamon de Valera, who assured the Irish people "This Draft Constitution... is going to be passed by the sovereign people who are above the lawyers and above Government and all others." (1937).

And  where does the office of President, popularly known as being the "guardian of the Constitution", fit into all this?

See also "Demolition of Irish Constitution behind closed doors?", report of Christian Democrat Party, appearing in Irish Family , 22 December.

End

Probably more on this topic, later.

23 December 2000
 

MESSAGE FROM MARY ROBINSON
UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

On the occasion of the Human Rights Conference, Dublin Castle 8/9 December 2000

 
As we mark the first Human Rights Day of the new century I am delighted to send my good wishes to the organisers and participants at the conference "Protecting and Developing Human Rights on the island of Ireland, in an international context".

It is a unique occasion with the Equality and Human Rights organisations from both parts of the island of Ireland coming together with representatives of Government and the civil society.

The conference presents an opportunity to share experiences and aspirations - and to learn from each other. I am particularly pleased that Nigel Rodley, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, will place the discussions in the international context. Nigel is widely respected as a Rapporteur and as a teacher of Human Rights Law. It is appropriate that Mike Posner of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights will offer a subjective summary of the proceedings at the close of the conference on Human Rights Defenders Day, 9th December.  Mike will, I know, be remembering the murdered Human Rights lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, who paid the ultimate price for their beliefs.

The essence of the human rights challenge in every region of the world, including both parts of the island of Ireland, is the need to imbed a rights based culture in the society. To achieve this there is need to ensure implementation at national level of the international human rights norms and standards and to generate awareness through education and training. Governments must deliver with real improvements, protection and preventive measures to ensure all human rights for all. Transparency and accountability are critical, as is an understanding of the full range of rights civil, political economic, social and cultural.

A unique opportunity will present itself next year to address the issues of racisrn and xenophobia, issues at the root of so many attacks on synagogues throughout Europe, attitudes and support for far-right parties - all are proof that racism remains a potent force in society.  And, unfortunately, the island of Ireland is not immune.

Next September the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will be held in South Africa. The conference should be the occasion to devise new strategies to combat the evils of racism but I believe it can be more: it can be an occasion to focus on an inclusive approach to national identity, which sees diversity as strength and tolerance as the basis for social cohesion. The island of Ireland has an opportunity to lead in this debate and to help ensure that ideals are matched with action.
 

Comment:

Attacks on places of worship are not confined to synagogues.  Hundreds of places of worship - involving Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, and Tao - have been destroyed by the State in Wenzhou, China. Further details u/c.

Why single out far-right parties?  Far-left parties are equally intolerant.


END
 


NEART
A national coalition of pro-women's rights, pro-family, and pro-life groups
**********************************
         Phone: 2851146

NEWS RELEASE:  11  December 2000
 

Launch of Human Rights Commission for South

Sunday, 10 December, was designated as "International Human Rights Day", and Saturday, 9 December, was "Defenders' of Human Rights Day".

To mark the occasion, and to effectively launch the South's Human Rights Commission, a conference was held at Dublin Castle on 8 and 9 December.   The conference was attended by human rights activists, representatives of the Human Rights Commissions and Equality Authorities, and politicians, from North and South.  It was the first joint meeting of the members of both Commissions.

The Conference was opened by Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Liz O'Donnell, TD.  On Saturday, the Conference was addressed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr John O'Donoghue; and Mr Dermot Nesbitt and Mr Denis Haughey spoke, respectively, in place of Mr David Trimble and Mr Seamus Mallon, who were to have attended.

A considerable amount of time was taken up by the strong expression of anger and frustration on the part of representatives of NGO's and other similar groups in the South.  This was as a result of the announcement by the Government on Wednesday last of their choice of appointees as Commissioners for the Human Rights Commission, under the presidency of Mr Justice Donal Barrington.  It appears that those persons recommended by the Selection Committee for appointment as commissioners were - with one exception - passed over by the Government.   There were few calls for an explanation as to why the initial selection was not adhered to, and this vital question still remains to be answered.

NEART had submitted eight nominations - four women and four men - all of them highly qualified.  None of the applications had been acknowledged by the Selection Committee, and none of the NEART candidates had been interviewed, and none has, even yet, been officially or unofficially informed of the outcome of their application.

Neither were any of the NEART candidates notified of the intention to hold this Conference, and none was invited to it.  Admission was only granted after the matter was challenged.

From information received, participation in this important Conference was by invitation only but it appears that no pro-family or pro-life groups were invited in the first instance.  About five such people, of the 200 delegates present, were finally admitted.  A number of pro-life groups, as well as some non-NEART candidates, were refused admission notwithstanding that the conference hall was only two-thirds full.

There were calls from the pro-family and pro-life delegates for the recognition of and protection for the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death, and the human rights of families (for instance in the field of education).

The NEART delegates pointed out that there is essentially a clash between the Judeo-Christian approach to Human Rights and the humanistic one now being implemented, and that this is nowhere more evident than in issues such as the right to life.

There were also calls for each of the new Human Rights Commissioners to be asked that they declare, openly and honestly, where they stand in relation to the right to life of the unborn child.  The whole truth on this was demanded:  there should be no double talk or hiding behind words like "choice".  Otherwise, the claims to "openness" would be nothing more than a sham.
 

Pat Buckley, Chairman, NEART

END

(See also Report by Frank Connolly, Sunday Business Post, 10 December 2000)


Membership of Commissions
 

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Professor Brice  Dickson
 (President)
Professor of Law and head of legal studies University of Ulster. 
Christine Bell  Director, Centre for International and Comparative Human Rights   Law,   QUB
Margaret-Ann Dinsmore  Barrister
Tom Donnelly  Northern Ireland Area Business Manager, Proton Cars (UK) Ltd;
Rev Harold Good  Methodist Minister
Professor Tom Hadden  Professor of Law, QUB
Angela Hegarty  Lecturer in Law, University of Ulster
Patricia Kelly  Director, Children's Law Centre
Inez McCormack  Regional Secretary, UNISON
Francis McGuinness  Regional Manager, Trocaire Northern Ireland

Source: http://www.nio.gov.uk/990301c-nio.htm

Contact:
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Temple Court, 39, North St, Belfast BT! 1NA
Phone: 028 (048 from ROI) 90 243987   Fax: 028 (048 from ROI) 90 247844
email nihrc@belfast.org.uk    Internet: www.nihrc.org


Republic of Ireland Human Rights Commission
Mr Justice Donal  Barrington
 (President)
 A former judge of the Supreme Court
 William   Binchy  Law lecturer and anti-abortion activist
 Olive  Braiden  The former director of the Rape Crisis Centre
 Mervyn  Taylor  A former Labour Party minister
 Tom  O'Higgins  Official of development agency Concern
 Robert  Daly  A specialist in mental health from Cork
 Suzanne   Egan  A lawyer specialising in refugee law
 Jane   Liddy  A human rights specialist, formerly with the European Commission on  Human Rights in Strasbourg
 Prof Fionnuala  Ní Aoláin  A lecturer in human rights law at the University of Ulster

Source: The Irish Times, 9 December 2000

Contact:
Republic of Ireland Human Rights Commission
c/o Dept of Justice?, 72/76, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
 



Republic of Ireland: Reported "unanimous priority recommendation" of Selection Committee from a shortlist of 16:
 
 Martin   Collins  An activist with the Traveller movement *
 Michael   Farrell  A solicitor and former co-chairman of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties  *
 Cearbhall   O'Meara  A consultant
 Gerard   Quinn  A law lecturer at UCD *
 Ursula   Barry  An economics lecturer at UCD
 Clodagh   MacRory  A lawyer in Northern Ireland *
 Nuala   Kelly  Of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas *
 Fionnuala   Ní Aoláin  A law lecturer at the Unversity of Ulster

* = Subsequently asked by the Government to join the Commission.  See table below.

Source: The Irish Times, 9 December 2000
 
 

Republic of Ireland: Reported six people asked by the Government to join the Commission:
 
 Michael  Farrell  A solicitor, and a former co-chairman of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties *
 Martin   Collins  A Traveller, a graduate of NUI Maynooth,  a founder member of Dublin Travellers' Education and Development Group *
 Dr Gerard  Quinn  Professor of law in NUI, Galway *
 Clodagh  McRory  A barrister in Northern Ireland *
 Nuala  Kelly  The co-ordinator for the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas *
 Dr Katherine  Zappone  One of the founders of the Tallaght-based Shanty Educational Project for women and former chief executive of the National Women's Council

* = Reported "unanimous priority recommendation" of Selection Committee from a shortlist of 16

Source: The Irish Times, 21 December 2000
 

End


Who's running the Dept of Justice? And why?
Wednesday, 20 December: Minister carpeted, again!

Further confirmation appeared today that Mrs Robinson discussed with Mr O'Donogue on Monday the fact that the Government had ignored the recommendations of the Selection Committee.  The process, she told The Irish Times, was "extraordinarily important".

The Government has decided to create six extra positions on the Commission, and will announce the names in due course.  Legislation will be required before anyone is appointed.  In the meantime, the commission should begin work, he said.

(Irish Times, 20 December, report by Alison Healy)

Comment: If the selection process is so "extraordinarily important", surely the people should be entrusted with it.  Perhaps they might not come up with the right answer?


Tuesday, 19 December: Culture the concern

The "culture" of the institution has been major part of Mrs Robinson's "concern" about the Irish HRC, whose composition has been the subject of recent controversy.  She thought it was a pity there was not a broader discussion about that aspect, and about the international experience of such commissions.

Mrs Robinson put these points to the Minister for Justice yesterday.  Mr O'Donoghue's response is not known.

She suggested that the Government's action had not been "true to the process".

(Irish Times, 19 December, report by Carol Coulter)
 

Monday, 18 December: Watching!

In reported comments by Mrs Mary Robinson, she said that the establishment of the Irish HRC was being closely looked at in different regions in the world, because "the members of all the other human rights commissions are also watching".

(Irish Times, 18 December, report by Nuala Haughey)

 
Comment: One must wonder where the "different regions" source their information: we're not exactly awash with information ourselves.  What is the track record, for instance, of the selectors?


Saturday, 9 December: £0.6m.. £1.0m.. £1.5m....

Minister John O'Donoghue informed the Conference on Human Rights, held at Dublin Castle, that funds were allocated in the Budget to bring the Grant to the Commission to £1m., and that he hoped to see this amount increased to £1.5m early next year.
 

Saturday, 14 October: Carpeting pays off!

Reported that the Minister expressed himself confident he would be able to secure substantial extra funding for the Human Rights Commission.

(Irish Times, 14 October, report by Nuala Haughey)

(Comment: Isn't the Minister lucky to have friends in high places?)


Friday, 13 October: Minister carpeted

It is reported that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, was expected to raise serious concerns about funding for the Republic's Human Rights Commission.

The Minister would be meeting Mrs Robinson on Friday, at her request, prior to the conference on Racism both are attending.

Speaking to The Irish Times, she said that there was an international network which could protect in-country protection of human rights, and that that could not be done without adequate resources.

(Irish Times, 13 October, report by Nuala Haughey)

Comment: Protection obviously costs money, and she felt that the existing budget of £600,000 was not enough.


20 December 2000


Bunreacht na hÉireann
(Constitution of Ireland)
 
Fundamental Rights
(Government website)
 

Comment:

"If there is one thing more than another that is clear and shining through this whole Constitution, it it the fact that the people are the masters"

"This Draft Constitution... is going to be passed by the sovereign people who are above the lawyers and above Government and all others."

(Eamonn de Valera, Dáil Éireann, 11 May 1937)

21 October 2000



Appointment of Commissioners
 
The following information is taken from an advertisement appearing in certain newspapers c.2 September 2000:
  • To provide it with a range of choice of eligible appointees, the Government has requested a Selection Committee to draw up a list of names of persons qualified.
  • Members of the Selection Committee are:
    • Dr TK Whitaker, Chairman, former Chairman of the Constitution Review Group,
    • Ms Inez McCormack, President of ICTU and member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission,
    • Ms Mary Murphy of the Society of St Vincent de Paul,
    • Mr Frank Murray, Civil Service Commissioner, and
    • Mr Martin O'Brien, Director of the committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland.


    Both Dr Whitaker and Ms Inez McCormack made oral presentations to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution hearings on Abortion.

  • The Commissioners (8 plus President) may be appointed for terms of up to five years.   The Government has already appointed as President, Mr Justice Donal Barrington, former Judge of the Supreme Court.
  • Appointments are to "broadly reflect the nature of Irish society".
  • Selection Committee Secretary: Ms Geraldine Larkin, phone 602 8729 or fax 602 8578.
  • Closing date was Friday 22 September 2000.
End of extracts
17 October 2000




 
An end to Referendums?
A COMMENTARY ON THE HRC ACT.
 

INTRODUCTION:

1.  Arising from the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, an independent new body, the Human Rights Commission, is now being established by the Government under the recently-enacted Human Rights Commission Act.  The Commission will be concerned with the "promotion and continued development of the human rights agenda in the broadest sense".

2.  "Human rights" are stated by the Act to be those supported:

by the Irish Constitution, and

by "any agreement, treaty or convention to which the State is a party".  There are 30 such agreements, none of which have been placed before the people.

Seven only of the agreements are significant. The remainder are overtaken by legislation or additional protocols.

3.  The Commission will, amongst other methods, operate by bringing (or supporting) test cases before the Courts.  In this way, new law will effectively be established by the Courts, or pressure brought to bear on the Legislature to do so.

The changes are intended to remove a fundamental area of law-making - that relating to personal rights - from the Legislature (and the people), and to place it in the hands of unelected and unaccountable government appointees.

The creation of new law within the Constitution is the responsibility of the legislators: constitutional change is the prerogative of the people.

4.  These are truly momentous changes.  They are, for the most part without informed consent, and hence, without proper authority from the people.

It would have taken a very careful reading indeed of the Good Friday Agreement, plus some imagination, for any citizen to have forecast the outcome that is now taking shape.   That is not good enough.

The Human Rights Commission Act is a profoundly undemocratic and, in my view, illegal, enactment.

(Foregoing as published in Sunday Business Post and Irish Times, October, 2000)
 
 

A DETAILED EXAMINATION:
 

A Constitutional Coup

1.  The philosophical basis of the Irish Constitution, and these agreements, etc, are at odds with one another at a fundamental level.

(The Constitution is based on Judeo/Christian principles, as are/were most Western constitutions).

2.  The people have had no democratic input whatever into these agreements.  They have been signed up to by administrative action by various governments over the last 30 years.

3.  The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, page 20 para 9, says the Government would "bring forward measures", and would "draw on" the ECHR and "other international legal instruments.."

What the Government is now attempting, gives new dimensions to the meaning of these phrases.

Regardless of what the effect of the changes might be, (and this is a good deal less than clear), it is argued that the public was not adequately informed.

For a discussion on the effects of the interaction between the Constitution, the ECHR and some covenants, see Chapter 3 of the Green Paper on Abortion.

Note also that the referendums on both the Good Friday Agreement and Amsterdam Treaty (the latter a large and confusing document, which drew the major part of attention) were held on the same day, 22 May 1998.  The GF Agreement was taken on trust by many, at least in the Republic.

The Government states 95% of voters voted for it, but without mentioning that some 45% did not vote at all.

See Good Friday/Belfast Agreement
 

The "new" Human Rights

1. While many of the provisions of the conventions (declared by the Act to be "human rights") are desirable, and continuous development is necessary, some of the convention provisions lend themselves to interpretations unacceptable from a Christian viewpoint, and others are just unacceptable as they stand.

2.  It is absurd that conventions relating to human rights, agreed to by the representatives of 350 million people, but not seen or agreed to in any shape or form by the people themselves, should be handed to a few unknown lawyers for interpretation, and  for imposition on the public.

And the position is far from static.   There is currently a great rush to agree a new European Charter of Human Rights before the end of this year 2000.  The reason for the rush could not be explained at the NGO forum at Kilmainham in June this year.

How can anyone regard all this as in any way democratic?
 

3.  The most important right of all, without which all other rights are meaningless, the Right to Life, is at best fudged in some of the conventions where it is referred to.2,3    As a result, Ireland has come under pressure (illegal) from UN monitoring committees to be permissive in regard to abortion.

There is therefore particular risk to the interests of the unborn child (and the child's mother) in these arrangements, if or when the Courts come to interpret the same covenants.

The CEDAW Committee has already hinted at the possibility of a test case involving an asylum-seeker.

The Courts are the favoured route for the legalisation of abortion.
 
 

4.  The notion that judges and lawyers, or indeed any "experts", are the repositories of justice, is one that must be challenged.
 
 

Passing law-making to the judiciary

1.  In establishing an arrangement for the creation of new law by the Courts, the legislators are abandoning a responsibility that is specifically theirs.

When and where did the people give specific and informed consent to this new principle?

This is apart from the sidelining of the people's right to authorize constitutional change, already referred to, and which is also without proper authority.

The Courts generally only look backwards to precedents, and determine justice for the individual in the particular circumstances before it.  (A practice of "creativity" is also developing in some legal branches, thus going outside the remit of the judiciary and creating new law).

The Legislature has the duty of looking forward and determining what is best for society as a whole, anticipating and adjusting as far as possible to avoid individual cases of injustice or hardship.  This is/should be an ongoing process.

The facility of adjudication by the Courts is necessary for the relief of injustices, but it ought not be used in substitution for the work of the legislators.

See urgings of the NI Chief Commissioner, Professor Brice Dickson, in regard to creativity.
 

Comment:  It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the legislators are "passing the buck" to the Courts for legislation they are afraid to handle themselves.

After 8 years the legislators have yet to bring themselves to arranging to give effect to the will of the people by facilitating the correction of the X-case aberration.

2. Although review by the legislature of new law created is possible, it is clear from the Act that this is not intended.

3.  If it has taken 8 years of endeavour to rectify just one case which the people consider to be contrary to their wishes, how is the public going to cope with a stream of test cases that will be flowing from the courts?

4. In placing (or supporting) test cases before the Courts, the Commission will likely tend to speak for the interests of the individual.

Who is going to defend the interests of society, or an unrepresented vulnerable group, eg, the unborn, or pressurised mothers, in such cases?

Comment: Even if the State does represent the interests of society, will it be done with the same vigour as was employed in the X and C cases?
5. If the situation develops as seems possible, some new institution will have to be created balance the power of the Courts, so as to defend the general public interest and the Constitution.
 

Accountability

1. As noted by Anthony Coughlan (Irish Family, 13 October), human rights cover virtually every field of human life. Human rights are not a free good.  They can sometimes come at a cost to other parties, and they almost always involve an equivalent responsibility.  Commissioners, having the power to promote their own view of what is a human right, will therefore have a material influence on how many will live their daily lives.

Appointment as a Commissioner, then, is not on a par with appointment to a public board in the Government's gift, such as, for the sake of example, CIE, the Institute for Advanced Studies, or the European Investment Bank.

The nature of the function, as we have endeavoured to point out, is already lacking in respect for democratic norms.  It is made doubly so by the appointment of commissioners by cabal rather than by election.
 

2.  Despite what has been said about the central importance of the Right to Life,  it appears that no attempt is to be made to establish the position of candidates in advance of appointment.  Finding out after appointment will be too late.

The primary duty of the State is to defend all its citizens.
 

Comment:

It would be an abomination to have any persons appointed to a position of authority relative to the implementation of human rights who were less than committed to upholding respect for all human life.
 

3.  There is no provision for the audit or review by the legislators of the Court's decisions.
 

4.  See also Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
 

Conclusion:

The Human Rights Commission Act is an act in more senses than one.  It is an act of sequestration of the powers of the people, and an act of betrayal of the unborn child, of mothers, and of society.

********************

Notes

1. These covenants and agreements are as prepared by the UN.  None of them are obligatory.  In agreeing to abide by a covenant, a country may add qualifications or reservations.  The covenants Ireland has signed up to may be found (we are informed) on the irlgov website at Dept of Foreign Affairs.

2. Except in the case of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where it is embodied in the Preamble.  As a result, the Preamble is often omitted when the Convention is being quoted!

3.  Details under construction.
 
 

End

21 October 2000



 
THE  HUMAN  RIGHTS  COMMISSION  ACT, 2000

Has  abortion  now  been
 legislated  for?

 
(Emphasis added)

1. The HRC Act states:

"2.  In this Act (other than section 11) "human rights" means -

(b) the rights, liberties or freedoms conferred on, or guaranteed to, persons by any agreement, treaty or convention to which the State is a party."
2. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) states:
Article 7: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. "
3.1 The (UN) Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations relating to the CCPR, (Ireland report) dated July 2000, states:
"18.  The Committee is concerned that the circumstances in which women may lawfully obtain an abortion are restricted to when the life of the mother is in danger and do not include, for example, situations where the pregnancy is the result of rape.

 "The State party should ensure that women are not compelled to continue with pregnancies where that is incompatible with obligations arising under the Covenant (article 7 and General Comment No. 28*)."


3.2 The CEDAW (All forms of Discrimination against Women) Committee, in its concluding comments (Ireland report), dated 7-15 June 1999, states:

"..the Committee is concerned that, with very limited exceptions, abortion remains illegal in Ireland.  Women who wish to terminate their pregnancies need to travel abroad.  This creates hardship for vulnerable groups, such as female asylum seekers who cannot leave the territory of the State."
*General Comment deals with Equality of rights between men and women under Article 3.   It is clear that Article 6 is interpreted as applying to pregnant women only.  There is no reference to the right to life of the unborn child.


Comment:

1. In this Act, the Government has (illegally, we believe) declared to be "human rights",  provisions in some 30 covenants, not one of which has been seen, much less approved by the people.

2.  Some of these provisions have been interpreted by UN "experts" as authorising abortion.  Such interpretations are without authority. No UN convention sanctions abortion.  Nevertheless, Irish judges may decide to rely on the opinion of such "experts"..

3. As tacitly suggested (illegally) by the CEDAW Committee, a test case could be taken using a female asylum seeker.

If successful, an abortion could be carried out by bringing in a non-national abortionist.  This would establish the precedent of an abortion being carried out within the State.

4.  The next step would be to bring another test case under Article 17 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits "unlawful interference with his privacy, family...".  This would establish abortion as an unqualified right.

5.  The foregoing is presented in somewhat simplistic form.  It is possible the Constitution may be proof against these steps.  Against that, much could depend on the judge(s) hearing the case.

6. The Government has deliberately created great hazard for the unborn child in this legislation.  This is contrary to the duty it has to defend all its citizens.

In the Human Rights Commission Act,  a path has been marked out for the legalisation of abortion.  Whether or not successful, this seems to be the intention.

No further legislation is required. The Courts will do the rest.

Abortion has not been legalised in this Act.  But it has been legislated for.

7.  There is nothing in the Belfast Agreement, approved by referendum, to suggest that it might be used for the purpose of legalising the killing of unborn Irish children.  Yet this is the direction events are now taking.

8.  More of the Government's intentions will soon be revealed in the track record in the defence of life of the Commissioners it will be appointing.

It must also be remembered that, as well as promising a referendum to reinstate the already expressed will of the people, the Government also promised to their PD partners the implementation of the Second Report of the Council for the Status of Women, a document not exactly resounding with demands for the protection of unborn human life.

9.  Apart from the many other implications of this Act, the Government is effectively throwing the unborn child into a pool of sharks, while supplying a lifebelt to help him/her swim ashore.

That way, everybody's happy.

End.



Human Rights Commission Act, 2000
 
(Selected provisions)


The Act is not on the the irlgov.ie website (at 23 Sept 2000).  It is available from the Government Publications Sales Office.  The following are some extracts and comments:
(Emphasis added)

"Human Rights"
"s.2 - In this Act (other than section 11) "human rights" means -

(a) the rights, liberties and freedoms conferred on, or guaranteed to, persons by the Constitution, and

(b) the rights, liberties or freedoms conferred on, or guaranteed to, persons by any agreeement, treaty or convention to which the State is a party."
 

Comment:

The definition of the phrase "human rights" is important, as it indicates the range of activity open to the Human Rights Commission (HRC). The Bill, as drafted, had limited human rights to those guaranteed by the Constitution, and to those embodied in international human rights instruments which have been given the force of law in the State (or designated by the Minister).  The Irish Council for Civil Liberties speaker at the 1999 NGO Forum expressed her dissatisfaction with this definition, and urged NGO's to lobby government to amend the definition.

The Bill was amended from "the force of law" to  "the State is a party", which greatly widens the powers of the Commission.

The "Sunday Tribune" in reporting on this, stated that the State had been a party to some 30 conventions.

Rather more important is the question as to which stands superior to which, the Constitution or the conventions.   No doubt this will provide a fuitful source of contention for some in the legal profession, while the public sit on the sidelines while their fate is decided.

End of comment.
 


"S.5 - (1) The Commission shall consist of  a President and eight other members.

(2) to (11)  Omitted

(12)  The Government, in making any appointments under this section, shall have regard to the need to ensure that the members of the Commission broadly reflect the nature of Irish society."
 

Comment:
1.  Who is going to be the judge of the phrase "broadly reflect the nature of Irish society"?

2.  Will they reflect the 70% who suppport the right to life of the unborn child?

3.  How will they know?

4.  There is no indication as to how the public is to have a say on the selection or approval of those who, together with the judges, will determine how their daily lives will be lived?

End of comment.
 


"S. 8 - The functions of the Commission shall be -

(a) to (e) Omitted

(f) to conduct enquiries under and in accordance with section 9,

(g) Omitted

(h) to apply to the High Court or the Supreme Court for liberty to appear before the High Court or the Supreme Court, as the case may be, as amicus curiae in proceedings ...

 Comment:

In a UK case, a person appearing as an impartial  commentator in one (human rights) case, on a later occasion appeared in another (human rights) case as an interested party.


(j) to provide assistance of the kind referred to in section 10 to persons under and in accordance with that section,

(k) to institute proceedings under and in accordance with section 11."
 
 

"s.10 - (1) This section applies to:
 

(a) legal proceedings involving law or practice relating to the protection of human rights which a person has instituted or wishes to institute, and

(b) legal proceedings in the course of which a person relies or wishes to rely on such law or practice.


(2) A person (in this section referred to as "the applicant") may apply under subsection (3) to the Commission for assistance of the kind referred to in subsection (5) in relation to legal proceedings to which this section applies.

(3) to (4) Omitted

(5) The assistance referred to in the preceding provisions of this section is -

(a)  the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal advice to the applicant,

(b) the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal representation to the applicant,

(c) the provision of such other assistance to the applicant as the Commission deems appropriate in the circumstances.

(6) Omitted
 
 

"s.11 - (1) The Commission may institute proceedings in any court of competent jurisdiction for the epurpose of obtaining relief of a declaratory or other nature in respect of any matter concerning the human rights of any person or class of persons.

(2) Omitted

(3) In this section -

"human rights" means -
 

(a) the rights, liberties and freedoms conferred on, or guaranteed to, persons by the Constitution, and

(b) the rights, liberties or freedoms conferred on, or guaranteed to, persons by any agreement, treaty or convention to which the State is a party and which has been given the force of law in the State or by a provision of any such agreement, treaty or convention which has been given such force."
 
 

Comment:

What sections 8, 10 and 11 seem to mean is that assistance can be  provided in connection with any agreement, etc, to which the State is a party, while proceedings may only be instuted where the agreement has the force of law.

Additionally, the Commisssion may appear as amicus curiae (a "friend of the court", ie a disinterested adviser).

"s. 17 (4) The Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956  shall not apply to the appointment of the staff of the Commission."
 
Comment:

Why not?
This Act requires that, in general, appointments to positions in the Civil Service should be by competition, and by selection by the Civil Service Commissioners.

End of extracts from Human Rights Commissions Act 2000.

22 December 2000


Background to the Human Rights Commissions (u/c)
The Need for a Commission

According to a statement by the Minister, Mr John O'Donoghue, the desire or need for a Commission arose from:

1. The conclusions of the Constitution Review Group (CRG).
2. The "level of interest shown" by the United Nations.
3. The developments which led to the Good Friday Agreement.
The CRG noted that Human Rights Commissions of a general kind existed in a number of European and Western democracies, though no European commission is named in the Minister's statement.  In connection with the Good Friday Agreement, promoting respect for human rights and preventing discrimination in Northern Ireland were objectives which were thought to be appropriate to a human rights commission.  From that seems to have flowed the decision to establish an equivalent commission in the Republic.
 

Links to other HRC's:
Australia HRC: http://www.hreoc.gov.au/
Canada HRC: http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/
India: http://nhrc.nic.in/
Indonesia: http://www.komnas.go.id/
Northern Ireland: http://www.nihrc.org
Mexico: http://www.cndh.org.mx/(in Spanish)
New Zealand HRC: http://www.hrc.co.nz/
Pakistan: http://www.hrcp.cjb.net

End




 
Good Friday/Belfast Agreement
(Agreement Reached in the Multi-Party Negotiations, dated 10 April 1998)

Extracts from Agreement as approved by Referendum on 22 May 1998: (Emphasis added)

"Legislation

26. The Assembly will have authority ot pass primary legislation for Northern Ireland in devolved areas, subject to:

...

(d) mechanisms, based on arrangements proposed for the Scottish Parliament, to ensure suitable co-ordination, and avoid disputes, between the Assembly and the Westminster Parliament;

..."
 
 

Comment:

"In order to understand this we must look to find out what the arrangements with Scotland are with regards to abortion.  In the White Paper laying down the terms of Scottish devolution there is a section which deals with 'Reserved Powers' ie, those areas where legislation is reserved to Westminster One of the areas mentioned is "Abortion, Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, genetics and xenotransplantation."

"At the present time the abortion position in Northern Ireland is contrary to that in mainland Britain. The Belfast Agreement confirms, in writing, that Westminster shall have the power to legislate in this regard and point 26 (d) above says that this is so, in part to avoid disputes.

"Now clearly there is a dispute between the official Labour Party Government position on abortion and that of the majority of people in Northern Ireland.*   But the people of Ireland, North and South, in signing the Belfast Agreement have agreed to give the Labour Government legislative authority in this area.

"We didn't know that we were voting for this as it was only referred to indirectly in the Belfast Agreement in point 26 (d).  One has to ask the question: was this reference to abortion made deliberately indirect in order to keep pro-life people in favour of the Belfast agreement?"

(Above is an extract from letter to Irish Family 26 March 1999).

*See Official Report (Hansard) of 4-hour debate in Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday 20 June 2000, available from Stationery Office Bookshop, 16 Arthur St, Belfast BT1 4GD at £5 sterling.

A motion from DUP Assembly Member Jim Wells that the Assembly rejected the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland was backed by 79 of the Assembly Members in writing.
 

Editor's comment:

Abortion is an important to the people of Ireland, North and South.  It was dishonest of both governments to hide this matter.

It is suggested that this part of the agreement is null and void, as there was not informed consent.
 
 
 

"RIGHTS, SAFEGUARDS AND EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY

...

Comparable Steps by the Irish Government

9.  The Irish Government will also take steps to further strengthen the protection of human rights in its jurisdiction. The Government will, taking account of

the work of the All-party Oireachtas     Committee on the Constitution and

the Report of the Constitution Review Group,

bring forward measures to strengthen and underpin the constitutional protection of human rights.  These proposals will draw on
the European Convention on Human Rights and

other international legal instuments in the field of human rights and

the question of the incorporation of the ECHR will be further examined in this context.

The measures brought forward would ensure at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as will pertain in Northern Ireland.  In addition, the Irish Government will:
  • establish a Human Rights Commission with a mandate and remit equivalent to that within Northern Ireland;
  • proceed with arrangements as quickly as possible to ratify the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities (already ratified by the UK);
  • implement enhanced employment equality legislation;
  • introduce equal status legislation; and
  • continue to take further active steps to demonstrate its respect for the different traditions in the island of Ireland."
...

"New Institutions in Northern Ireland

5.  A new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, ...with an extended and enhanced role beyond that currently exercised by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, to include ... in appropriate cases, bringing court proceedings or providing assistance to individuals doing so."
 

End of extracts from Good Friday/Belfast Agreement

(Emphasis and blocking (except for bullet points) added)

 
Comment:

Considering that the "work of the Constitution Review Group" amounts to a demolition job on the Constitution, how will the measures to be brought forward "underpin the constitutional protection of human rights"?

End of comments on Good Friday/Belfast Agreement

17 October 2000


Annual NGO Conference, 2000

A report from NEART

(A national organisation for pro-life, pro-family, and pro-woman groups)


Sharp exchanges of views were a feature the 3rd Annual NGO Forum on Human Rights at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham on Saturday, 1 July 2000.

The Forum, hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, discussed a number of Human Rights issues, including those relating to Racism in Ireland, Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Immigrants, and Persons with disabilities.

Amongst the highlights of the keynote address by Minister of State Liz O'Donnell, TD, was the observation that many of the poor who leave their homelands would prefer to remain where they are.  "Their choices, are, however, limited, and many are compelled to leave by powerful economic and social forces beyond their control"
 

High on the agenda was discussion on the Human Rights Commission - its remit, independence and powers.  The membership of Commission would be a crucial factor.  According to earlier media reports, the composition was to have been decided by the Government, and the Commission taken office  at the week-end.

However, there was no indication from those at the top table that this had occurred.  The delay may have been a result of representations by a large number of NGO's, including NEART, having made representations that the appointments should be made in a fully transparent manner, that the positions should be advertised and subject to an open selection process, and that they should be fully representative of the diversity of Irish society.

As the Commission would be involved in interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights, (ECHR), some concern was expressed from the floor as to what the outcome might be in the event of a conflict between the ECHR and the Irish Constitution.   The matter had particular relevance in the areas of the Personal Rights guaranteed by the Irish Constitution, in particular the right to life, and the right of mothers to a choice of whether or not to work in the home.

The EHCR was silent on abortion, the gathering was told.  Many delegates expressed their concerns with great clarity about this, as the Right to Life is a fundamental pre-requisite for all other rights.   Progress on all other rights would have no meaning if the fudge surrounding this issue was not addressed.   Concern was heightened by the revelation by one of the panelists, that the organisation he represented, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, (ICCL), "believed in the right to choose".

At another session, delegates learned that speedy progress was being made in the formulation of an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  October was mentioned as a deadline date.   Again the issue of sovereignty arose.  It has yet to be decided as to which would be subordinate to which - the Irish  Constitution or the EU Charter, and who would be doing the interpreting.

Again, the question of the Right to Life of the unborn was considered to be a crucial issue by NEART  delegates.   The Chairman, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, repeatedly assured delegates that their views would be passed on to the drafters of the Charter in Brussels and would be taken into consideration, and he reluctantly agreed that his precis of the days discussions would be sent to the organisations present at the conference.

It was abundantly clear that the pro-life/family members present had no confidence that the government would take their views on board, or would express them at European level.
 

A motion was put from the floor, and seconded, that a strong statement on the Right to Life of the Unborn be included in the Chairman's summary.  The Chairman strongly resisted the putting of any motion to the meeting.  The delegates nevertheless expressed their votes, and it was clear that there was a significant majority in support of the motion.
 

The proceedings of all the sessions were summarised by Mr Donncha O'Connell, stated to be a Director of ICCL.

The Minister of State, Ms Liz O'Donnell, TD, who was to have hosted the reception, was stated to have been detained elsewhere, and was unable to attend.   The delegates were shocked and taken aback by this apparent snub by the Minister, and many expressed the intention of seeking a proper explanation.

End of report.
 

Comments:

1.  It is argued that if Ireland made a greater effort to permit the creation of jobs in underdeveloped countries, they would have a lesser need to send economic migrants to this country.

2. In raising concerns that the views of pro-life/family delegates might not be taken into account, there was a basis for this concern by NEART delegates.  In March last, NEART delegates had clearly put forward their views to those running a consultation conference relating to the Beijing+5 conference.  Not only were those views disregarded, but issues were put forward by the EU delegation at New York, and supported by the Irish delegation, which were  totally opposed to NEART's submissions, and repugnant to the Irish Constitution.

3. It is understood from media reports that the Government would be discussing the issue of the making of appointments to the Commission on Tuesday 4 July.  As at the end of August, one appointment only had been made, ie, Mr Justice Barrington to the  position of Chairman.

End of comments.


Annual NGO Conference, 1999

EXTRACTS FROM REPORT of
Dept of Foreign Affairs on
Second Annual NGO Forum on Human Rights
26 June 1999.  (Emphasis added)
 

Professor Brice Dickson,
Chief Commissioner,
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission:
 

"My next point is perhaps a more controversial one for the NGO movement and that is that NGO's and human rights commissions must not allow themselves to adhere to outdated ideas on human rights.  I think we must recognise, especially in the criminal justice field, that new techniques of, for example, forensic science must require us to adopt a different attitude to certain human rights principles.  We must recognise that in certain situations the steps taken by the police or the prosecuting authorities are justified for the prevention of crime.  Provided the crucial rights of individuals are protected, then all can still be well.  There is a need to realise that rights are very rarely absolute and they must be accommodated.  Sometimes the interest of a greater good can override the interest even of the individual.  That is why the European Convention on Human Rights in many articles proclaims a right in the first paragraph and then says in the second paragraph that, in the interests of public health, public order or national security, the rights can be compromised.

We must be very careful that those compromises do not go too far, ...

...

I would urge the judges in the Republic and in Northern Ireland to be imaginative and pro-active in that regard.  Constitutional traditions must not be allowed to stand in the way of this process of internationalising our human rights law.

...

Thirdly, we must have a campaigning and lobbying function.  We must exhort the Government in all ways that we can think of to improve the human rights situation.  Let's not adhere too closely to constitutional niceties.  Let's allow human rights commissions to show their independence by speaking out strongly to governments and if that means adopting imaginative lobbying tehniques and campaigning strategies, then so be it.

..."

End of extracts from Report

14 September 2000
 


 
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