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Bill of Rights can help us build the society that we all want

By Liam Clarke

Published 11/11/2011

It is seldom mentioned, but a Bill of Rights is a part of both the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements that has yet to be implemented.

It could act as a constitution for Northern Ireland, setting out what we, as a community of nearly two million people, hold to be most important and what sort of society we want to live in - regardless of who is in the majority.

The idea took a bit of a knock when the Human Rights Commission produced a draft which went way beyond the rights which are more or less universally accepted, like free speech.

The commission envisaged a document which guaranteed a wide range of economic and social rights which, unionists feared, could hamstring government and feed a compensation culture.

The project will be revisited at an event hosted by the Human Rights Consortium in the Brassiere in Stormont next Monday.

It will be jointly sponsored by MLAs from all the main parties, including Sammy Douglas of the DUP, the UUP's Basil McCrea, Martina Anderson from Sinn Fein and Alban Maginness of the SDLP.

Disagreement about the exact content is no reason to drop an idea which all the main parties have solemnly undertaken to implement.

Finding an agreed way to do so would be an important confidence-building measure.

It might also help to make other changes in the way we are governed easier to agree.

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