Prof Dickson has impeccable authority to speak about rights

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The article on the opposite page by Professor Brice Dickson is remarkable.

It is not remarkable because of its content: what he says is in many respects self-evident.

It is self-evidently “hugely more deleterious ... on people’s well-being” to have an absence of government in Northern Ireland during the last 28 months than the absence of same-sex marriage or an Irish Language Act.

It is self-evidently “counter-productive to be demanding those rights while denying people a much more basic right — the right to government”.

And it is self-evident, at least to most people in the legal and political and ethical worlds, that “under international human rights law virtually no right is absolute”.

The article, however, is remarkable for two reasons.

First, its author, Professor Brice Dickson, can speak with impeccable authority on the matter, being an internationally respected figure in the world of human rights, and indeed having been the first chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

It is further remarkable because very few other people in prominent political or academic or public positions have dared to make the obvious points that Professor Dickson has made. They are perhaps fearful of being seen as ‘anti rights’.

Indeed there has been a general consensus that almost everyone in the political world is to blame for this impasse, hence the general clamour for all MLAs to lose their salaries.

But, while there have been clear shortcomings in governance, a repeat of which must be made as difficult as possible in future devolution, such as the RHI cash for ash scandal, only Sinn Fein has presented a veto on the return of Stormont.

Professor Dickson is a supporter of the Alliance Party and of issues such as gay marriage (which gives his comments added force). This newspaper does not share his wider world view, but welcomes his ability to articulate the way in which the concept of rights has been abused in a wholly cynical way.