The Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium has firmly rejected the government’s proposals for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, describing them as ‘pitifully limited’, unacceptable’ and ‘disrespectful’.
They want widespread new rights, including socio-economic rights, including ‘effective enforcement mechanisms’.
But the Consortium fails to look at the big picture.
Our society, irrespective of who is in government, wants its people to be able to live their lives to their full potential. Broadly there are three planks to how this is achieved:
Firstly the democratic process – the right for the electorate to tell a government to be gone, the right to peaceful regime change, if you like, and through the choice of a governing party, also to choose between the respective policies offered by the parties.
Secondly, the pursuit of broad social goals that are shared in society and which form the core of any government’s agenda and policy, whether it be Labour or Conservative. Striving to achieve freedom from hunger, freedom to have shelter, freedom to seek employment, health provision, etc. is the aim of policy formulated by the freely elected government.
And thirdly, the legally enforceable universal rights and freedoms guaranteed internationally by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and in Europe by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Consortium and others are trying to bring the justiciability that rightly attaches to these universal human rights in to the proposed ‘socio-economic rights’ and thus fetter government’s ability to implement policy and to allocate resources.
If democracy means anything, it means that government is accountable directly to the electorate. The ‘effective enforcement mechanisms’ that the Consortium proposes would mean that government was accountable in court to the judiciary, at the call of the person bringing the case, who, under the current proposals could be an unaccountable body such as the Consortium.