11. Memorandum from the Northern Ireland
Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (NIC.ICTU)
1. THE COMMISSION'S
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. THE 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. THE COMMISSION'S
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. THE DEVELOPMENT
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