[Sinn Fein]

9 May 2002

Government Challenged on Human Rights Commission

Speaking today at the launch of the Sinn Fein proposals on Social Inclusion, party President Gerry Adams demanded the development `on a proper working basis of the Human Rights Commission as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.'

Mr Adams said:

There is a wide consensus that the story in Ireland today is a tale of two societies.

On one hand we have the enormous benefits of the peace process and the Celtic Tiger.

On the other hand we have large sections of our people who are excluded from the entitlements which would allow them to prosper from these benefits.

At the very core of the Sinn Fein message is `Equality'. This encompasses equality for all, irrespective of race, age, marital or family status, sexual orientation, physical or mental capacities, ethnicity, social origin, political or religious affiliations, or members of the travelling community.

The establishment parties must recognise that Irish Society is the sum of its parts and there is no rationale for excluding any group.

It is our firm view that if we are to establish an equal society the many diverse groups in Irish society need enhanced protection from the State.

In our manifesto Sinn Fein has brought forward a number of innovative proposals across a range of areas -

In the negotiations which resulted in the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein argued for the establishment of the Equality and Human Rights Commissions in the North and for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission in the South.

The establishment, on a proper working basis, of the Human Rights Commission in this part of Ireland, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, must be implemented by the government.

This is not optional. It is a commitment which has been endorsed by the vast majority of people on the island and one which Sinn Fein TDs will be actively working to make a reality.

There is sometimes a perception that the obligations of the Good Friday Agreement apply only to people of the north. This is not the case.

The Good Friday Agreement called for the establishment of two Human Rights Commissions. One in the north and one here in the south.

After considerable controversy around the government's appointment of Commissioners the Commission was eventually established. However, there has been a failure to provide the administrative and resources back-up that the Commission requires if it is to do its job properly.

This is a matter that has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

The two Commissions are charged under the Good Friday Agreement to develop a Charter of Rights for the island. This cannot proceed with a fully resourced Human Rights Commission. The failure of the government to properly resource the Commission means they are impeding progress on this important element of the Good Friday Agreement.

A lot has to be done to end social exclusion to bring in equality. The establishment on a proper working basis of the Human Rights Commission here would be an important step in the right direction.

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