Human Rights Commission ‘must remain independent’ in NI

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The independence of Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission should be maintained during any shake-up of devolved government, the chief commissioner said.

Michael O’Flaherty recommended the Commission become directly accountable to the Assembly if the decision was taken to shift responsibility for it from London to Belfast.

He gave evidence to a committee of MPs which is considering possible changes to devolved matters.

“The current arrangements in place in the legislation do guarantee our independence which is an essential dimension of our compliance with the UN principles,” he said.

“We would ask that you would emphasise the importance of whatever arrangements might be put in place that they guarantee the independent function of the Human Rights Commission.”

The Commission provided evidence to Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, sitting at Stormont, on the Draft Northern Ireland Bill.

The Commission reports to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

The committee is considering whether the draft bill should allow the Northern Ireland Secretary’s responsibilities for the Commission to be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive at some future date.

Mr O’Flaherty told the committee the Commission must not become accountable to a minister in the Executive.

“A decision to devolve responsibility for the Commission is ultimately a political one. What matters for the Commission is that any potential new arrangements must allow it to carry out all of its functions independently of Government, in full accordance with the Paris Principles,” he said.

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