To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will confirm that when he stated in his recent press statement on 14 February 2017 that it is essential that none of the human rights protections or frameworks underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement are disturbed by any changes that are consequent from a Brexit agreement, that this includes the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and all the human rights and constitutional protections therein that give effect to the Good Friday Agreement; the action the government as co-guarantors has taken in view of the fact that the agreement is inviolable as part of a UN recognised international treaty to ensure the delivery of the outstanding human rights protections of that agreement, including the bill of rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien.
For PRIORITY answer on Wednesday, 22nd February, 2017.
Ref No: 8824/17 Lottery: 3
As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government is determined that all aspects of the Agreement are fully respected through the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and thereafter. Our priority is to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement and the overall balance of the settlement is not in any way disturbed by the UK’s exit from the European Union. All provisions of the Agreement must be respected, including those relating to the constitutional status and to human rights.
The human rights provisions of the Agreement are a fundamental pillar of the Agreement and of the peace process overall. In Northern Ireland, the human rights provisions support the confidence and willingness of all communities to participate in the agreed political institutions of the Agreement and ensure that every citizen is guaranteed equal status and equal protection under law.
On 13 February, I convened a Sectoral Dialogue on human rights under the Good Friday Agreement to hear the views of civil society, North and South on the possible implications of Brexit for this pivotal chapter of the Agreement. This was a very valuable exchange and a number of key themes emerged, including:
-The importance of upholding the Good Friday Agreement chapter on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, as an integral part of the Agreement as a whole.
- The value of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland as referred to in the Good Friday Agreement, in mitigating some of the potential impacts of Brexit for Northern Ireland.
- The value of a Charter of Rights for the island of Ireland as referred to in the Good Friday Agreement. This would also support the provision in the Agreement on equivalence of rights on the island.
Each of these themes demonstrate that human rights are central to the peace process and must be protected and sustained, regardless of the UK’s future relationship with the European Union.
As provided for under the Good Friday Agreement, the UK’s Northern Ireland Act 1998, established the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and the UK Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic UK law.
The Good Friday Agreement is clear that there is an obligation to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law and this is a continuing obligation, which is not diminished by the prospect of the UK leaving the EU.
The Good Friday Agreement also provided for consideration of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and the Government advanced the view during the 2014 Stormont House talks, that a Bill of Rights could set out precisely and formally the rights upon which a shared society for Northern Ireland could be based. While there was not sufficient consensus to take this forward at that time, the parties to the Stormont House Agreement did commit to:
“serving the people of Northern Ireland equally, and to act in accordance with the obligations on government to promote equality and respect and to prevent discrimination; to promote a culture of tolerance, mutual respect and mutual understanding at every level of society, including initiatives to facilitate and encourage shared and integrated education and housing, social inclusion, and in particular community development and the advancement of women in public life; and to promote the interests of the whole community towards the goals of reconciliation and economic renewal”.
The Stormont House Agreement provides for regular review meetings with the participation of the Government, the British Government and the Executive party leaders. At the last two Review Meetings – most recently in December – I specifically raised the references to outstanding commitments in the Stormont House Agreement, including in relation a Bill of Rights, and suggested regular consideration of them at the Review meetings to ensure that they remain on the political agenda.
The Government’s firm position is that the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent Agreements must be implemented in full, and this is reflected in the Programme for a Partnership Government. The Agreements, and the principles and values underpinning them, are at the core of the Government’s approach to peace, reconciliation and prosperity on this island. The Government views as a solemn responsibility our role and mandate as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, and will continue to work with the British Government and the political parties to fulfil the full promise of the Good Friday Agreement and to advance political stability, reconciliation and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland.