Belfast Telegraph

PM 'rowing back' over human rights

David Cameron is recoiling from plans to repeal the Human Rights Act faster than European championship rowers, it has been claimed.

Democratic Unionist Peter Weir told the Northern Ireland Assembly the Prime Minister was wrong to roll back on controversial proposals to scrap the 1998 Act.

He said: "It undoubtedly seems to be the case, and I think wrongly, that David Cameron is moving away from this faster than the Coleraine rowing team that were taking part in the European rowing contest at the weekend.

"There is no doubt that he is clearly intending to abandon that - hence we saw the watering down within the Queen's Speech."

The comments were made during a Stormont debate.

A motion from the cross-community Alliance Party to reject any legislative changes narrowly passed by 43 votes to 41.

Stewart Dickson, the Alliance MLA for East Antrim, described the Conservative manifesto pledge as nonsensical and damaging.

He said: " The rhetoric from Whitehall and the right wing of the Tory Party has cooled, and the repeal of the Act has been shelved. Nevertheless, we must keep up our guard.

"The Prime Minister and others may spring this irrational policy back at any time in an attempt to satisfy the right wing of their party. I hope that no party here represented at Westminster would contemplate backing such a shoddy policy and undermine fundamental rights for the people of Northern Ireland to suit their political purposes."

The Government plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the convention in law, and replace it with a British bill of rights has led to speculation that the Government could pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The proposal has been delayed for a year and was not included the Queen's Speech, with many observers suggesting the Government would not be able to pass it through Parliament as too many peers and Tory MPs are opposed to it.

Earlier Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the Commons that withdrawing from the ECHR was not "on the table".

Concerns have been also raised that repealing the Human Rights Act could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which secured peace in Northern Ireland.

Alex Attwood, from the SDLP, said: " We are undoing and doing damage to the Good Friday Agreement.

"We are undoing and doing damage to the rights culture and approach which is at the heart and centre of our new democracy and our stability going forward.

"The Human Rights Act is generally a sword deployed against wrong but is also a shield to protect what is right."

Unionists argued that the Act had been used to subvert the judicial system.

DUP MLA Nelson McCausland said: "The unionist community is critical of the Human Rights Act, the way in which it has been interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights, and of the fact that it has been abused on a regular basis by criminals and terrorists who have used spurious challenges to avoid deportation.

"If we are going to protect human rights, let us think about the human rights of innocent victims, rather than the supposed human rights of those who are perpetrators and want to avoid justice.

"This is simply a way of evading or circumventing the political process. I think it is a very undemocratic position, with a lot of this human rights agenda and human rights sector. Therefore, I certainly welcome and support what the Conservative Party seeks to do, whether in part or in whole."

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott said: "You would think that the only reason we have freedom in this society is thanks to Brussels or thanks to the European Court or thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights.

"But, even a cursory examination of the facts tells a totally different story."


From Belfast Telegraph