Belfast Telegraph

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is all wrong

By Mark Brotherston

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) has been in existence for more than 15 years. It was formed as part of the Good Friday Agreement, with the purpose of promoting human rights and advising on a Bill of Rights for here, to supplement the European Convention.

It could conceivably have become a useful bulwark against abuses. It might even have drafted legislation reflecting our specific circumstances and troubled past. Unfortunately, over the years, it became clear the NIHRC did not know a human right from an inflatable pink elephant.

Its latest wheeze is to investigate accident and emergency services in Northern Ireland. If you think this is strange for a human rights organisation, you are right.

The NHS might have problems, and A&Es could certainly do with some reforms. However, it is also packed full of dedicated professionals doing their level best to provide quality care under difficult conditions. To investigate them on the grounds they might be infringing human rights is an outrage, an insult and so inappropriate as to be almost laughable.

But the NIHRC has form. Its biggest job after Good Friday was to advise the Government if a human rights bill was necessary. It could not have failed more spectacularly. Its recommendations either replicated existing human rights, ignored Northern Ireland's special circumstances or disregarded the basic definition of a human right, reflecting instead socio-economic aspirations.

Two governments kicked these proposals so far into touch, they cleared the political grandstand. Yet the NIHRC, whose purpose – set out in legislation – was to provide advice, continued to champion its recommendations, helped by a shifting cast of third sector rights organisations.

The current NHS investigation suggests it is finally time to determine whether the commission is fit for purpose, or whether it is an expensive, counter-productive waste of time. The NIHRC and successive commissioners have seemed intent upon expanding their remit in order to justify their existence and the industry around them. Casting aspersions upon hard-working medical professionals could be the last straw.

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