Ex-human rights chief: SF using Irish and gay marriage to deny rights to everyone else

Brice Dickson is emeritus professor of international and comparative law at Queen's University Belfast
Brice Dickson is emeritus professor of international and comparative law at Queen's University Belfast

A Queen’s University Belfast law professor who branded Sinn Fein’s Stormont boycott an “abuse of rights” has defended his position following fierce criticism.

Writing in the News Letter on Thursday Professor Brice Dickson said Sinn Fein’s refusal to form an executive was more harmful for Northern Ireland than the absence of same-sex marriage or an Irish language act.

Prof Dickson – the former chief commissioner for the NI Human Rights Commission, who is currently emeritus professor of international and comparative law at Queen’s – said the right to have a government was “a more basic right” than those at the centre of Sinn Fein’s pre-conditions for restoring power-sharing.

Political commentator and former Sinn Fein election candidate Chris Donnelly tweeted: “Sinn Fein apparently abuse rights by supporting rights. A stretch for students of logic, but the target audience are those in audible reach of the drumbeat.”

One response to Mr Donnelly’s tweet dismissed Prof Dickson’s views as “blinkered, intellectual bluster” and said there were “inexplicable barriers being placed in the way of rights”.

Another accused him of being “opposed to the very concept of human rights”.

Prof Dickson defended his assertions today on the BBC NI Talkback programme.

He said he “takes exception to the idea that there has to some sort of guarantee” that the right to same-sex marriage and Irish language must be guaranteed before Stormont can be restored.

“It is subordinating the right to government to other more specific rights.

“It’s not what the Good Friday Agreement was set up for; in fact, it’s the exact opposite of that.”

Prof Dickson added: “You could argue that under the convention (European Convention on Human Rights) that it is a breach of the Convention, because Article 17 of the convention says that a right should not be used in a way that denies other rights.

“To me that is what is happening here.”

On the same programme, nationalist commentator Brian Feeney described Prof Dickson’s argument as “intellectually impoverished”.

He said: “There is a government here – it’s called the British Government. Stormont is an administration.

“There is a Scottish Government and there is a Scottish Parliament. We don’t have a Parliament here – this is a micro jurisdiction.

“The British Government is in hock to the DUP. They are the people who are denying progress.”

• Original Prof Dickson article is available online here