[Sinn Fein]

27 February 2001

Bill of Rights - Foundation stone for a new future

Sinn Fein Vice President and West Tyrone MLA Pat Doherty, Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Michelle Gildernew and Belfast Councillor Chrissie McAuley today handed in the party's submission on a Bill of Rights for the north to the Human Rights Commission.

Speaking after their meeting with Brice Dickson, Mr. Doherty said:

``Since the foundation of the northern state injustice, inequality and the suppression of human rights have been the norm.  The Good Friday Agreement, with its all-Ireland dimension, its all-Ireland and political structures in the north has provided us with an opportunity to place that injustice firmly in our past and to ensure that it plays no part in our future.

``However, critical to the success of the Good Friday Agreement is the need to build a human rights culture and ethos into the fabric of a society that has existed for so long on its denial.

``How we approach the issue of a Bill of Rights for the north, what rights it enshrines, how it is enforced in legislation and how quickly we move towards the planned harmonisation of rights throughout the island, are all crucial matters which will dictate whether this central element of the Good Friday Agreement is achieved or not.

``Sinn Fein believes in, and in our submission we argue forcefully for and all-Ireland Constitutional Court.  This structure is required to serve as an independent and impartial body to which citizens, special interest groups and the Human  Rights' Commissions can refer cases for decisions.  WE believe that if rights and case law are to harmonise and converge throughout the island, as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement then a Constitutional Court is a logical and appropriate model to advocate.''

``Our draft Bill of Rights covers democratic and justice rights, cultural, economic and social rights, the rights of children, of victims, of the disabled, aged and more.

``It is a major submission covering one of the most fundamental issues within the peace process.

``Given the mishandling of the Policing issue by the British government since the Patten report was published in September 1999, there is more than a sense of foreboding among many nationalists and republicans that any draft Bill of Rights could well meet the same fate as the Policing legislation.

``That scenario must be avoided at all costs if the legacy of human rights denial and abuse is to become part of our history.

``Sinn Fein believes that the British government must neither veto nor dilute the potential that exists to put in place a comprehensive Bill of Rights for the North.''

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