Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 80-82)



  80. On this area, in your letter, for example, you say, "Look, we have to have a framework that makes sense within the UK as a whole", and that must be right, but surely if we are trying to have a framework which makes sense within the UK as a whole it should be within the UK and the Irish Republic as a whole, and one needs therefore to have perspectives under the Good Friday agreement that look across the Irish Sea and north and south to try to get some common standards. It does not make much sense, does it, to be talking about incorporating international treaties of civil and political rights and economic and social rights just in Northern Ireland without looking, as you say, in your letter beyond that to the UK as a whole and to the Republic as a whole?  (Mr Browne) I think I was agreeing with you in my last answer.

Mr McNamara

  81. What happens to the economic and social argument if, in fact, the charter of rights of the European Community is accepted by the European Community, including Her Majesty's Government?  (Mr Browne) I think the answer to that is that we are in changed circumstances, and we then have to look at where we are. This whole process of rights is a dynamic and it has moved significantly since this government came to power in the UK. There is a European dimension to it; there is an all-island dimension to it in the Britain Isles, although I have to point out that I do not think Ireland has incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into its domestic law so we might be at a disadvantage using it as a comparator at the moment. I come back to an essential theme of my first answer which is that when you are operating in this area you are operating in a dynamic area and you need to be fleet of foot and keep your wits about you, recognising that things may change tomorrow, and if they do then you have to respond to them. Just to be comprehensive in relation to funding, I would point out that we are looking at funding for the next three years for the Commission and we will be making an announcement shortly about that. I am not able to do that at present.


  82. Finally, minister, if the Cabinet was to seek your advice on the establishment of a Human Rights Commission in Great Britain or England and Wales, what lessons would you draw from the Northern Ireland experience?  (Mr Browne) I do not think the Cabinet will be seeking my advice on this particular issue! I think my initial response to this might be that I have enough responsibilities, and at the moment I have more than enough responsibilities in Northern Ireland without worrying about the lessons for the United Kingdom. Probably I would speak to them as I usually do in reply to any question but I think they have our years of experience—now four years of experience—of working in government with the Human Rights Commission to draw on which has a number of lessons I think for government, but also for those charged with the responsibility of being Commissioners. I think reading the annual reports of the Commission would be very good advice because those are just the sorts of issues that will be important to a Commission. They might in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland have a unique environment to work in, but I suspect that what is reflected in the annual reports of the Commission would be the sorts of things that would be of relevance to the consideration of what a Commission for Great Britain would do.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, minister, for your time today.

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