Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Northern Ireland says yes to Bill of Rights, claims poll

Majority of unionists and nationalists back campaign, study shows

There is overwhelming cross-community and political support for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, research by the Human Rights Consortium has shown.

More than 83% of unionists and 86% of nationalists say it is important that a Bill of Rights be introduced in Northern Ireland.

There is also no statistical difference between supporters of the main parties on the issue.

That is the finding of an opinion poll carried out in June, weeks after the Assembly election.

It will be unveiled this afternoon at a reception hosted by the Human Rights Consortium in Stormont.

According to IPSOS/MORI, the independent polling company which carried out the exercise for the Consortium: “Supporters of all the main parties were 80% in favour of a Bill of Rights.”

The demand for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was first raised by the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s.

The survey suggests that it is no longer seen as an orange/green issue by most voters who like its potential for enshrining basic living standards.

In total 1,008 adults from across Northern Ireland were questioned on the issue as part of a larger “omnibus” survey on other unrelated matters.

A Bill of Rights was favoured by 83% of people.

This was then broken down by who the respondents had voted for or — if they hadn’t voted — who they generally supported.

The figures for the four main parties were Sinn Fein 88%, SDLP 86%, DUP 84%, UUP 83% and Alliance 81%.

“Statistically there was no really significant difference between the various parties’ support bases,” according to Paul Matthews, Senior Research Executive in IPSOS/MORI’s Belfast office.

The result may surprise leaders of the main unionist parties, who have expressed reservations on the issue in recent years.

Their caution grew after the Human Rights Commission recommended that social and economic rights like housing, income, healthcare and education should be included.

They feared this would tie the hands of government and lead to endless litigation.

However, many grassroots unionists don’t agree.

When asked whether they wanted rights to things like “health, housing and education” enshrined in law, support for the bill shot up.

For instance 92% of DUP supporters wanted these rights included.

“When we use terms like a Bill of Rights some people may not know exactly what it means until it is explained,” Mr Matthews said.

Support was strong across all the parties, ranging from 87% for Alliance to 96% for Sinn Fein.

It averaged 90% overall.

Sorcha McKenna, Campaign Director at the Human Rights Consortium, commissioned the survey to test the common perception that the Bill of Rights was part of “a nationalist agenda”.

She said: “Our position is that human rights are for everybody. Our membership is highly diverse.

“One of the barriers to a Bill of Rights, from the UK government’s position, is the feeling that it lacks cross party support. Our findings challenge that assumption and I hope they will open up a debate.”

There was also support across the board for the right to adequate housing (95%) and an adequate standard of living (94%), while the right to mental and physical health scored 95% and the right to education was highest of all at 97%.

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