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Time to establish what should be enshrined in a Bill of Rights

Brexit and commitments contained in the New Decade, New Approach deal which restored power-sharing lend added impetus, a committee chair said.

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Emma Sheerin encouraged the public to respond to her committee’ consultation on a Bill of Rights (NI Assembly/PA).

Emma Sheerin encouraged the public to respond to her committee’ consultation on a Bill of Rights (NI Assembly/PA).

Emma Sheerin encouraged the public to respond to her committee’ consultation on a Bill of Rights (NI Assembly/PA).

It is time to establish which entitlements should be enshrined in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, an Assembly member has said.

Brexit and commitments contained in the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal, which restored power-sharing, lend added impetus to the conversation, Emma Sheerin added.

She chairs Stormont’s Bill of Rights Committee and is running a public consultation seeking views on what any legislation would look like.

Ms Sheerin said: “We have a very different society now than in 1998 and a lot of things have changed.

“Those with rights deficits are not those of 80 years ago.”

She hoped the consultation would help inform her committee on what rights were important to all, including the young.

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Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the Human Rights Commission was asked to consult and advise on the matter.

It delivered advice to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 10 December 2008.

But very little progress has been made since then.

The issue was revisited in the agreement which led to the restoration of power-sharing last year.

That said the establishment of cross-party and cross-community support will be critical to advancing a Bill of Rights.

Ms Sheerin’s committee was set up following the NDNA agreement.

The committee is tasked with looking at the implications of a Bill and what rights it might include.

Its public consultation ends on January 29 and it has already taken extensive evidence from experts.

That included the head of Northern Ireland’s judiciary, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.

He said the impact of Brexit on law was yet to be seen, giving evidence late last year, and it does not necessarily follow that civil and political rights are going to be materially impacted.

He added that the nature of cases before courts had changed to include social rights since the Human Rights Act was introduced into UK law in 1998.

The committee’s public consultation can be accessed here: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/committees/2017-2022/ad-hoc-committee-on-a-bill-of-rights/survey-on-the-creation-of-a-bill-of-rights-for-northern-ireland


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