Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

It's right to keep talking about a future that we all want

The concept of a Bill of Rights, once espoused by all parties, has gone onto the back-burner, because many politicians see it as a way of transferring power from the Assembly to the justice system.

A Bill which would guarantee social and economic rights across society is, a MORI poll has established, supported by 83% of people across all communities. This includes 81% of DUP voters.

Yet, in other polls, people say they want to see a reduction in corporation tax, which would involve a 2-3% cut in spending, and would resist any new taxation imposed by finance minister Sammy Wilson (below) at Stormont. That circle can't be squared. The reluctance to implement a Bill of Rights springs from the fact that, with budgets tight and parties unwilling to raise taxes, many politicians want freedom to manoeuvre and don't want the courts setting their spending priorities.

Last Monday, such thorny topics were aired in a panel discussion to mark Human Rights Day, which I joined.

Such political difficulties should not end the discussion on a Bill of Rights.

Teasing out such problems can only help us to envisage collectively the future society we want, setting priorities and aspirations.

It may be necessary to put more emphasis on rights, like free speech and governmental transparency, or we may be able to get a still-broader consensus.

Either way, the conversation is one well-worth having.

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