Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

11. Memorandum from the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (NIC.ICTU)


  1.1  NIC.ICTU believes that the NIHRC has made a considerable impact on promoting and protecting human rights in Northern Ireland and in working towards building an effective human rights culture. The list of actions and achievements during the Commissions first three years is extensive. It is even more so when one takes into account the fact that the Commission had to establish itself, build a working partnership of Commissioners, appoint staff, find an office, develop a cohesive staff team, agree a first strategic plan and work programme, conduct a substantial piece of work and consultation on a Bill of Rights within the constraints of a small staff complement and tight resources.

  1.2  However, we believe it important that the Commission does not over-extend itself with actions and activities that cannot be sustained or followed through on due to staff and financial constraints. We made this point in our response to the Commission's 2nd Strategic Plan and suggested that, if it had not already done so, that the Commission reflect on outcomes and impact to date to determine whether all its activities have been essential and equally effective.

  1.3  That it has not had greater effect has been in part due to the Commission's lack of powers and resources; the persistent campaign by certain of Northern Ireland's politicians to undermine the Commission; and the fact that Government has not been as supportive of the Commission's role as the key human rights body in Northern Ireland as it might be. We made this point in our submission on the review of the Commission's powers.


  2.1  For the Human Rights Commission to be effective it requires status and respect. These come in part from competent implementation by the Commission but they are derived in the first instance from clear and effective powers and duties. NIC.ICTU is concerned about the limitations placed on the Commission's powers and the constraints this places on its effectiveness. It is our view that in a number of instances the Commission's powers and duties should be clarified in legislation.


  3.1  The Commission, in its report to the Secretary of State, indicated the difficulties it encountered because of a lack of resources. In the Commission's words "The Commissioners are firmly of the view that in many respects the Commission has not been effective as it might have been purely because of the lack of resources available to it" and was able to list where the impact of this was felt most. It gives some graphic comparisons with other bodies.

  NIC.ICTU has considerable sympathy with the position of the NIHRC on its resources. Its budget is particularly small and when committed costs are met very little remains for programme work. For example, failure by government to resource work on the Bill of Rights as a discrete element of the Commission's work until fairly recently, placed considerable financial constraints on the Commission. We are firmly of the view that the Commission should have its funding increased and staff complement increased.


  4.1  NIC.ICTU has been impressed with the dedication and commitment shown by Commissioners and staff in their intensive and extensive work on the Bill of Rights which we experienced first hand. The Commission engaged in a wide and innovative consultation process on this issue to which NIC.ICTU responded. We noted the many excellent and positive proposals in the draft Bill prepared by the Commission but also had a number of reservations and concerns that we outlined in our response.

  4.2  We have been concerned by the antipathy show by some of Northern Ireland's politicians towards the Bill of Rights and the lack of serious involvement in the debate by the political parties as a whole. As we believe that the Bill of Rights is important for the future of Northern Ireland it is essential that additional efforts are needed to engage the politicians with civil society on this issue.

25 November 2002

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