In Dáil debates and at Committees I have consistently highlighted the absolute importance of the European Convention on Human Rights as outlined in Good Friday Agreement.
Below is reply by Minister for Foreign Affairs to my recent Dáil Question.
For Written Answer on : 28/06/2022
Question Number(s): 568 Question Reference(s): 34582/22
Department: Foreign Affairs
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had any recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights for Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Good Friday Agreement cites the European Convention on Human Rights as a vital safeguard that ensures the successful operation of the Agreement’s institutions and the protection of Northern Ireland’s communities.
The British Government has now published legislation to introduce a UK Bill of Rights which, if enacted, would repeal and replace the Human Rights Act. The Bill requires serious and detailed consideration now.
It is important, at this early stage, to make clear that the full incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law, with the ability to obtain remedies for breaches of the Convention in domestic courts, was a fundamental commitment under the Good Friday Agreement, which was implemented by adopting the Human Rights Act. The incorporation of the ECHR into Northern Ireland law by way of the Human Rights Act has been essential in creating confidence in Northern Ireland’s political, policing and judicial structures over the past 24 years. It has proved to be a profoundly important safeguard.
We are very concerned at any potential diminution of human rights protection in Northern Ireland, including any restriction of the ability to obtain remedies for breaches of the Convention in domestic courts.
Following the introduction of a ‘command paper’ last December that set out the British Government’s intention to introduce this legislation, I set out my serious concerns very clearly to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in writing. I also raised these concerns at the most recent meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference in March. I and the officials in my Department will continue to do so, following close scrutiny of the Bill itself.
In this context, it is worth recalling here our real concern that the British Government has chosen to introduce legislation on the legacy of the past unilaterally, moving away from the process agreed in the Stormont House Agreement. We have profound concerns both on the substance of the ‘Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill’ and the process of its introduction, and are deeply conscious that it has been strongly opposed by victims, by the Northern Ireland parties, and by civil society groups.
We have serious questions with regard to the Bill’s compliance with international human rights obligations. In particular, we have serious doubts as to whether the Bill complies with the positive obligation on states to carry out effective investigations into unlawful deaths required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Government is firmly committed to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement; this includes working with the British Government to ensure that all international human rights obligations are fully respected. We will continue to communicate to the British Government our deep unease at the potential negative consequences of the UK Bill of Rights Bill for the operation of the ECHR in Northern Ireland, and the potential non-compliance of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill with the ECHR.