A Bill of Rights is an underhand political project

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Jeff Dudgeon, the articulate Ulster Unionist councillor from South Belfast, has demolished the notion that a Bill of Rights is an outstanding issue from the Belfast Agreement.

That claim, that such a bill must be introduced, is the latest mischievous republican demand.

Mr Dudgeon knows plenty about rights legislation.

He was the man who took a case to the European Court on Human Rights in the late 1970s to get homosexuality decriminalised in Northern Ireland.

Republicans, he recalls, had no interest in supporting such legislation at the time. They were preoccupied with armed struggle at the time.

Their motives continue to be principally tribal, masquerading as a commitment to rights and equality, and that is why they are fixated on a Bill of Rights.

The Belfast Agreement required the government to request the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) to advise on the scope for designing a specifically limited Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

That was done.

Mr Dudgeon points out that there was no subsequent agreement among the parties for a local bill.

He is right, but there is another point to be made: the Labour government at the time also thought such a fresh layer of legislation to be unnecessary.

So too did the Conservatives.

In other words there was near unanimity against the plan, except among nationalists.

As Mr Dudgeon implies, this is an attempt to achieve political aims hiding behind ‘human rights’.

If nationalists want to try to pursue that method as a way of political advancement, it is a pity.

But all non-nationalists, and not merely unionists, must stand against this plan.