Monday 24 July 2017

UK could breach Good Friday Agreement with U-turn over human rights, says Flanagan

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The UK could be in breach of its international obligations under the Good Friday Agreement if it presses ahead with plans to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, it has been warned.

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said there was a clear obligation on both the Irish and British governments, under the 1998 peace deal, to incorporate the Convention on Human Rights into law in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

This obligation was unaffected by Brexit, he said.

The Conservative government under David Cameron proposed scrapping the Human Rights Act, the legislation which incorporates the convention into British domestic law, and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly set to make plans to pull out of the European Court of Human Rights a central aspect of her 2020 election campaign, according to the British media.

"I'm very concerned at the proposed withdrawal by the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights. This could certainly place the UK in breach of its international obligations under the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Flanagan said.

He said he had flagged this issue with senior British politicians, including Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who will be in Dublin this week.

In his first visit to Dublin last year after taking office, Mr Brokenshire sought to play down fears that British plans to scrap the Human Rights Act would have repercussions for the peace process.

He said the proposed new British Bill of Rights would be consistent with the commitments set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

The convention, drafted under a British Conservative politician lawyer David Maxwell-Fyfe after World War II, in response to Nazism and Stalinism and ratified by Britain in 1951, was incorporated into British domestic law by the Human Rights Act of 1998.

Mr Flanagan was speaking at the Government's latest Brexit sectoral dialogue, this time focusing on human rights.

Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, told the gathering at Maynooth University yesterday that the lack of a bill of rights for Northern Ireland was a "missing piece in the jigsaw of the implementation of the agreement".

He also said that retaining the common travel area would not address a number of economic and social cross Border rights, including childcare arrangements, healthcare issues and social security co-ordination.

Deirdre Duffy, deputy director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, signalled the potential loss of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in the UK post-Brexit could also mean the loss of certain procedural rights that accompanied it.

"Not only does the arrest warrant allow for co-operation in law enforcement, it also has a parallel pillar of rights associated with it. Because of those principles within EU law, we also have procedural rights such as access to a lawyer, right to legal aid, that have been developed in order to allow EU member states to be able to operate the EAW system effectively," she said.

"It's a niche area where there's going to be a lot of untangling that needs to be done."

Irish Independent

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