[Sinn Fein]

30th March 2003

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003

Martin Ferris TD speaking to motions 235 and 236 on Human Rights

Both of these motions deal with the lack of implementation of the GFA in terms of the commitments given by both Governments and their failure to deliver thus far. These are areas of ongoing work in current negotiations and are vital area of the agreement and progress needs to be made to restore confidence in the process around this issue.

Motion 236 concerns the failure of both governments to deliver on the terms of the Agreement in relation to Human Rights 5 years after the signing of the GFA.

The agreement in paragraph 4 under Human Rights commits the British Government to deliver `a clear formulation of the rights not to be discriminated against' and Para 1 of the same section commits all the parties to the agreement, including both governments, to the `right to freedom from sectarian harassment' and the `right to freely choose ones place of residence.

This simply hasn't happened and we have witnessed the legacy of that failure across the North particularly in the last two years and especially in North Belfast and the Short Strand.

The Irish Government has a responsibility under Paragraph 9 of the agreement to take steps to incorporate the ECHR in to Irish law. They are also required to establish a Human Rights Commission in the south with `a mandate and remit equivalent to that of the HRC in the North. While a HRC has been established in the south there is little evidence of its function to date and there has been minimal communication or consultation with their counter parts in the north to ensure the equivalence of function and effectiveness of both HR commissions across this island.

Work is ongoing on the development of a Bill of Rights for the north and SF have consulted widely on all the aspects of the Bill and have worked with the HRC on its development to date. However if we are to have a BoR as envisaged in the agreement, i.e. `BoR which is additional to the ECHR and reflects the particular circumstances of N.I. and which reflects the principle of respect for the ethos and identity of both communities and parity of esteem'

Then the British government need to remove their shackles from the HRC to enable them to carry out their remit and they need to give a commitment to introduce the BoR when it has been properly finalised.

Dealing now with motion 235 and the remit and role of the Human Rights Commission.

It will not be enough to simply have Human Rights legislation across the Island of Ireland. We need an effective instrument to deliver on human rights across society. In order for the HRC to be such an instrument it needs to be properly resourced and empowered.

The agreement mandates the HRC to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws and practices, to promote awareness and provide information on human rights. Most importantly they have been mandated to bring court proceedings and/or provide assistance to individuals on human rights issues.

In order to effectively carry out that function the HRC needs to be properly resourced, adequately funded and provided with the powers to deliver on Human Rights.

Ní fiu cíor gan fiacle - A comb is useless without teeth.

In short the HRC need to be given the teeth to execute their function as envisaged in GFA. The British government has not delivered on this aspect of the GFA and it is essential that this issue is progressed as part of the ongoing work in negotiations.

Both governments need to demonstrate their commitment to human rights by properly resourcing and empowering the HRC's to ensure a human rights culture in our society across the Island.

larraim oraibh tacu lets no ruin seo mar sin

Accordingly I ask you to support motions 235 and 236.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

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