A Northern Ireland Bill of Rights

Updated: Jan 14


Watch our video (above) on the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and then submit your response to the current NI Assembly Consultation, or contact us (mmecouncil@gmail.com) with your thoughts on what you'd like to see in the Bill.


Human Rights Day is observed each year on 10 December, and to mark the occasion this year (and also to mark the second anniversary of the MME Council!), we have published an episode of our video and podcast series MME Matters, looking at proposals for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.


For this episode, we talked to Dr Anne Smith of Ulster University, to get a sense of what a Bill of Rights is, as well as how the Northern Ireland version evolved; and then spoke to Dr Ulrike Vieten of Queen’s University, to look at how the Bill might affect newcomers, migrants, minority ethnic communities and others in Northern Ireland.


The debate on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland stretches right back into the 1960s, says Dr Smith, but was given fresh momentum by the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998, which asked a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) to consult and advise on a NI Bill of Rights.


The NIHRC delivered the results of its extensive and inclusive consultation on Human Rights Day in 2008; but almost a year later the recommendations were largely rejected.


Dr Smith says responses to the NIHRC recommendations vary from such rejection, to endorsement, and indeed to a third school of thought, which holds that the NIHRC did not go far enough, for example in terms of children’s rights, women’s rights, refugee rights, and in relation to the effects of Brexit.


And it was to address those sorts of issues that we spoke to Dr Ulrike Vieten, whose work looks at feminist theory, gender, intersectionality, ethnic minorities and issues of migration.


‘Migrant’ status, points out Dr Vieten, brings with it legal and social insecurities, not least for those from European Union countries after Brexit, and even more so for asylum seekers. A Bill of Rights could open the possibility of enhancing the rights of people in precarious positions such as these.


But ‘migrant’ and ‘ethnic minority’ communities should not simply be lumped together in an apparently uniform block; it is important to undertand the differences within and between such communities if we are to shape a Bill of Rights capable of responding to their needs.


It is for this reason that the MME Council is calling on as many people and organisations as possible, from across the whole spectrum of our diverse communities to respond to the consultation launched by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights.


A Bill of Rights is more than just another policy document: it will set out the protections successive governments will be obliged to provide for all the people of Northern Ireland -for all our differences. This, then, is a significant opportunity to engage directly with decision makers on a matter of lasting significance, and to ensure a broad range of voices is heard in building a diverse and inclusive society of equals.


Find out more about the consultation and submit your response here or contact us at mmecouncil@gmail.org should you wish to raise any issues, or contribute to a collective response to the consultation.


You can watch the MME Matters video here.


Many thanks to Dr Smith and Dr Vieten for sharing their expertise with us. You can find out more about their work here:


Anne Smith and Colin Harvey: Where Next for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland?

Fiona Murphy & Ulrike M Vieten: Asylum seekers' and refugees' experiences of Life in Northern Ireland


10 December 2020


Maurice Macartney

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