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David Cameron's plans to scrap the Human Rights Act could undermine Northern Ireland peace, warns Amnesty

By Claire Cromie

Published 14/05/2015

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

David Cameron's plans to scrap the Human Rights Act could undermine peace in Northern Ireland, Amnesty International has warned.

In letters sent to the Prime Minister and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Amnesty warns that the planned repeal by the UK government of the Human Rights Act 1998 “could have serious implications for Northern Ireland's peace settlement” and could undermine “public confidence in the new political and policing arrangements” which followed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The agreement obliged the UK to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into law in Northern Ireland, which was subsequently done through the Human Rights Act.

The Northern Ireland Assembly can only make laws which are compatible with the Human Rights Act, a key safeguard in the region.

New policing arrangements, introduced after the Good Friday Agreement, are also heavily reliant on adherence to the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. Trust in the PSNI is seen as one of the key success stories of the peace process.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The Good Friday Agreement is the cornerstone of a more peaceful Northern Ireland. The Human Rights Act not only fulfils one of the UK’s key obligations in the Agreement, but is crucial to ensuring public confidence in the new political and policing arrangements.

“Given the history of political discrimination and mistrust in policing in Northern Ireland, binding human rights obligations have been crucial in building and bolstering public confidence in these key structures post-Troubles.

“But public confidence can be eroded and undermined just as surely as it can be built.

“Any scrapping of human rights commitments could have serious implications for Northern Ireland's peace settlement.”

The DUP has long been a critic of the Act, saying it has been used by criminals and terrorists to avoid deportation while failing to protect the rights of innocent victims.

Jeffrey Donaldson MP said: "We support, as a minimum, the reform of the Human Rights Act, to remove the ‘right to family life’ defence against deportation upon conviction for a serious criminal offence.”

"The DUP did not support the Belfast Agreement and has no affinity to it. In fact the DUP has long argued that the United Kingdom should have a Bill of Rights which recognises and respects the diversity of the devolved arrangements across the country."

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party are all against any repeal.

Alban Maginness MLA said the Tory plans would spell chaos for Northern Ireland and have a deep rooted impact on the devolution setup.

Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people in referenda on both sides of the Irish border and our government is a co-signatory, alongside the UK, to the Treaty.

“As such, the Irish government must defend the integrity of the Agreement and ensure no erosion of the human rights protections which are central to the peace settlement. We welcome the Irish Government’s expressions of concern at the UK’s proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade’s stating he will raise this with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

“We urge the Taoiseach to make urgent and strong representations to the UK Prime Minister to ensure that hard-won progress in Northern Ireland is not now put at risk.”

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