Oireachtas Committee told of “Significant Gaps” in Human Rights and Equality Protections under Withdrawal Agreement
23rd January 2019 – The Joint Committee of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, established under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, has today appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality.
Addressing the Oireachtas Members, Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, stated:
“Today is an important opportunity to recall the commitments made back in 1998 to respect and protect human rights and equality of opportunity. Since 1998, there has been substantial progress towards a lasting resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland, grounded in its human rights and equality provisions.
“Although the UK Government has stated its commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement ‘in all its parts’, Brexit negotiations currently depart from that common framework, creating risks for people on both sides of the border, when it comes to both the rights and remedies available to them.”
In his address to Oireachtas Members, Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, stated:
“We want to preserve existing protections alongside at least keeping pace with human rights and equality protections as they develop within the EU in the future. We have also worked in collaboration with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in discussions with the UK government on the preservation and development of human rights and equality within the draft withdrawal agreement between the UK government and EU 27 Member States.
“Much has still to be agreed on the long-term arrangement: for example, in the area of justice, it is unclear how post-Brexit extradition arrangements will apply in the absence of the European Arrest Warrant. Meanwhile, on the subject of data-sharing, questions remain into how oversight and redress powers will be agreed and maintained, with any role for the Court of Justice of the EU being unresolved.”
Addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights, have pointed to seven distinct areas where significant gaps remain in the protection of human rights and equality under the proposed UK Withdrawal Agreement. These are:
1. The actual extent of protections provided by the UK Government’s “no diminution of rights” commitment – how these concepts will be translated and interpreted with reference to EU law remains to be seen, in particular in relation to EU Directives on parental leave, pregnant workers and the rights of victims.
2. The UK’s decision to no longer be bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – the loss of the EU Charter in its current form would lead to a loss of legal certainty and consistency.
3. The legal basis for the Common Travel Area (CTA) - the formal legal underpinnings remain scant and need to be solidified in law.
4. The rights of citizens – any form of potential unequal citizenship runs counter to the principles of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement – clarity is needed on how rights and entitlements will be accessed in practice.
5. Justice arrangements to be agreed – justice issues, including in relation to the European Arrest Warrant are unclear. Questions remain on how oversight and redress powers will be agreed and maintained where the UK is not subject to the Court of Justice of the EU.
6. Possible future divergence on rights protections – it is the likely that in the future, Northern Ireland will possibly diverge from Ireland and the EU in EU-led rights protections. Should this occur, the ramifications of such divergence remain to be seen.
7. Strength of the dedicated mechanism – ensuring the value of this mechanism envisaged under Article 4 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, which will include the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Joint Committee of representatives of the Human Rights Commissions of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Power and resources must follow the commitments made.
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Notes to editor:
The Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement Joint Committee has made specific written Committee recommendations in March 2018 to the UK and Irish Governments in a policy statement outlining six requirements for the final EU withdrawal agreement to meet the obligations of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement:
• Ensure no diminution of rights within the withdrawal agreement.
• Safeguard the North-South equivalency of rights on an ongoing basis.
• Guarantee equality of citizenship within Northern Ireland.
• Protect border communities and migrant workers
• Ensure evolving justice arrangements do not water down rights.
• Ensure continued right to participate in public life for EU citizens in Northern Ireland
The full Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement Joint Committee policy paper of March 2018 is available at the link below:
The Joint Committee Established Under the Good Friday Agreement
The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement’s section on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunities, provides for a joint committee of representatives of Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, as a North-South forum for consideration of human rights issues in the island of Ireland.
The founding statutes of both the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have ensured a formal basis in law for the Joint Committee.
The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, as an international treaty, recognised by the United Nations, laid down a mandate for both national human rights institutions, and the mechanism to ensure strong cooperation between them.
Throughout its work in 2018, the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement Joint Committee has met with ambassadors and key officials in the UK and Irish permanent missions to the UN in Geneva and to the EU in Brussels; with the Article 50 Task Force three times; including Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, Deputy Chief Negotiator Sabine Weyand and Advisor Nina Obermaier. The Joint Committee travelled to Westminster to meet with Sir Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union and his officials and met with Lord Duncan, Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in Stormont House a number of times. The Joint Committee has also met in session with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney T.D. in Dublin.
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is a non-departmental public body established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Its powers and duties derive from a number of statutes which have been enacted over the last decades, providing protection against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion and political opinion, sex and sexual orientation. It also have responsibilities arising from the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in respect of the statutory equality and good relations duties which apply to public authorities. Its sponsor Department is The Executive Office which carries responsibilities for equality policy and legislation in the Northern Ireland Executive.
23 Jan 2019