Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Outspoken rights watchdog chief is an ordained priest

The new head of Northern Ireland's human rights watchdog, Michael O'Flaherty, is an ordained priest in the diocese of Galway, the Catholic Church has confirmed.

Fr O'Flaherty, currently Professor of Human Rights at the University of Nottingham, has not practised as a priest for several years.

He studied Theology at the Pontifical University in Rome and has never applied to be laicised, or removed from priestly office.

He is also well-known as an advocate of gay and transgender rights. His appointment as Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is expected to be announced later today by the NIO.

Other applicants for the post included Lady Daphne Trimble, the wife of former UUP Leader David Trimble, a former member of the NIHRC and qualified lawyer.

Tom Elliott, the current UUP leader, has questioned the appointment of Prof O'Flaherty.

"Given that the decisions the NIHRC takes are mainly about Northern Ireland I would like to know what consideration was given to finding a local person or at least someone with direct experience here," he said.

Professor O'Flaherty has clashed with conservative Catholic opinion in the past and is very much his own man, according to Michael Kelly of the Irish Catholic magazine.

He is at odds with the papal teaching over many aspects of gay and sexual rights.

In 2008 he was part of the United Nations Human Rights Committee when it criticised the Irish Government for failing to legalise abortion.

Despite this, the Irish Government nominated him and lobbied strongly for him to be returned to the committee.

Michael Kelly felt he might be a useful person to have on hand as Northern Ireland launches an inquiry into priestly child abuse.

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