Ruth Dudley Edwards: I forgot to banish human rights professor to the desert island

My apologies to Professor Colin Harvey of Ireland’s Future, an organisation whose mission is ‘Paving the way to the reunification of the island’.

Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 11:47 am
Updated Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 12:01 pm
Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author and commentator, who writes a column for the News Letter every Tuesday. She is author of 'The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions' and her most recent book is 'The Seven: the lives and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish republic'

When just before the New Year I wrote my annual list of people I would like to send to a desert island (see link below), I completely forgot about him.

I was amazed when I realised I had had such a memory lapse, since I find him one of the most annoying people in Irish life and just the mention of his self-righteous organisation makes me groan.

But it was too late. The column had gone to press.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Professor Colin Harvey, seen above giving evidence to an Irish Parliamentary committee, is reported to believe that his involvement with the Ireland’s Future civic society group has made him a target for unionist hostility

I apologise to him for any distress this neglect caused him, for he is a sensitive man.

Last November, for instance, as cjhumanrights — attaching an article from the Irish News describing how he had heard nothing about a position for which he had been interviewed in June 2020 — he tweeted “Human rights academic Colin Harvey says he is ‘saddened’ by speculation that his appointment to the Bill of Rights panel is being blocked by the DUP”.

Now we know that he is an important man.

Did he not share with us on Twitter the other week that he was “privileged to have held academic positions across these islands and beyond. And to have served in public and civic life”?

The committee chair, Sinn Fein MLA Emma Sheeran, was very annoyed at the DUP “blocking the appointment of a human rights expert and academic to the panel”.

She didn’t name the Prof. but Amnesty director Patrick Corrigan, did: “It is even more concerning if the failure to agree this five-member panel is because of a refusal to appoint someone of the standing of Professor Colin Harvey, a leading authority on constitutional and human rights law on these islands and one of the most distinguished researchers and writers on the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. ”

The Prof. has been reported as saying that he believed his involvement with the Ireland’s Future Civic Society group had made him a target for unionist hostility.

Er, yes. And dare I say it, also for people who are neither nationalist nor unionist but just want to get on with making Northern Ireland work.

It’s not often I praise the Northern Ireland Office, but I have to say that I’m in deep sympathy with their delaying tactics.

These are delicate times, and any discussions on human rights seem to turn into a ferocious verbal punch up.

I remember when in 2008 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (of which the Prof. was a member) presented the secretary of state with their report on a Bill of Rights.

I read it at the time, was horrified at its overreach, and agreed whole-heartedly with Daphne Trimble, one of two members who dissented.

As she put it, Chief Commissioner Professor Monica McWilliams and the other seven had “misinterpreted its mandate and the additional rights suggested by the majority have little if anything to do with the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem”. 

Anyway, the NIO buried it.

In a week when — after a waste of seven years and who knows how much public money even the European Court of Human Rights has failed to back the litigious Gareth Lee over Cakegate — I hope they manage to bury the ‘human rights’ push again.

With the culture wars raging, can you imagine the explosive rows over transwomen’s rights in a female prison?

Kate Hoey’s interesting and punchy foreward to Unionist Voice Publications’ report ‘Vetoing the Protocol: restoring cross-community consent protections,’ hit the headlines for expressing her view that there is an elite nationalist network from law, media and academia which advances nationalist political objectives.

I certainly see and hear a great deal of disparaging and contemptuous language being used about unionists.

I’m sure the furore that ensued won’t have saddened Baroness Hoey, who is as courageous now as she was as a young civil rights activist and latterly, a Brexiteer.

Agree with her or not, she is a serious person who should be treated seriously.

The Prof. was shocked at what she wrote, and was challenged by Jamie Bryson, the report’s publisher, who tweeted: “Colin Harvey is once again seeking to adopt the victimhood mantle. He quite deliberately uses his professional status (see for example Shared Ireland campaign) to advance political aims. He can’t then complain when he is viewed professionally through his political background.”

But he does, and so he retweeted this from Paul Larkin, aka @brehonisbest (Brehon was the ancient Irish law that preceded the Normans): “the blatant character assassination campaign against @cjhumanrights bears all the hallmarks of the orchestrated campaigns against other human rights advocates like Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson”.

No, Prof. It doesn’t.

The always sane Mick Fealty of the brilliant blogsite Slugger O’Toole, who like me comes from nationalist, Catholic world, commented, “I confess to being puzzled by the outrage from people of my own cultural background, since the average Brian Feeney column is routinely far more dismissive and insulting (with the dry wit of a well practised satirist) than anything Ms Hoey has said. I think we have a very bad case of thin skin syndrome.”

I agree completely.

I’ll try not to forget the professor next year.

——— ———

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdowns having had a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Visit

now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Ben Lowry, Editor