Sir, – We are entering a critical phase in the Brexit process. At this juncture, it is essential that the Irish Government stands steadfast in its commitment to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland and across the whole island.
Between now and December 16th, the European Commission and Council (including the Irish Government) will assess whether “sufficient progress” has been made in negotiations with the British government on the key issues of EU citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland. If so, talks will move on to include other issues.
Given the lack of clarity in the British stance, no-one expects these issues to be resolved by December 16th. However, all parties will be weighing up evidence of intent and political will. There will be pressure to find positive news on issues like the Irish Border.
In the drive to find common ground and momentum, we must guard against ignoring deeper issues at stake or undermining the foundations of the Belfast Agreement. The agreement was about more than just bilateral trade-offs between two states. It was about more than ending conflict. It was fundamentally about building a society based on the principles of human rights, equality and dignity.
The society contemplated in the agreement remains a work in progress. Northern Ireland, like the Republic, remains an unequal society with many serious human rights challenges. However, the British government currently proposes to withdraw from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as soon as Brexit happens and plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, by which the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into UK law once Brexit is complete, thereby jeopardising the future that we have all been working towards.
There need to be assurances that all who live in Northern Ireland will retain the protection of those human rights treaties currently in force.
Northern Irish citizens must be guaranteed the right to hold both British citizenship and Irish and EU citizenship without any difference in treatment.
There must also be assurances that the rights of non-EU citizens living in Northern Ireland will not suffer a diminution.
Over the next month political decisions will be taken that will determine the future of all of us on this island. Business and political voices will be heard, but we must ensure that the voice of the communities who require protection of their human rights are heard loudly as well.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, along with other civil society organisations, will provide a platform for those concerned with these human rights issues to make their voices heard, and we would encourage others to do likewise. – Yours, etc,
Dr COLIN HARVEY,
Professor of Human Rights Law,
School of Law,
Queen’s University Belfast;
Irish Council for Civil Liberties,