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McGimpsey sure to set 'muddled' commission to rights

(by Anne Cadwallader, Ireland on Sunday)

FUTURE MEETINGS of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) are going to be interesting, now that Ulster Unionist Chris McGimpsey is on board.

Although the HRC has not, to date, had favourable press from the UUP, maybe all will become sweetness and light.

Last Saturday afternoon I, and a few other miserable souls, were labouring in the press centre in the bowels of the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

To entertain and delight us, we had about 100 UUP members at their annual conference. After lunch, they discussed human rights, and we duly took laborious notes in the unlikely event of anyone ever showing the remotest interest in what they were saying.

The conference's "balloted motion" (i.e. the one that most delegates voted to discuss) was duly passed unanimously, condemning the alleged nationalist bias in the commission's composition.

During the "debate" Lord Laird of Artigarvan said he had supplied a report to the commission last February claiming that republican terrorists had forced 250,000 Protestants to flee their homes.

"I have yet to hear what the Human Rights Commission has done about that," thundered the noble Lord. The motion was proposed by the UUP assemblyman for South Belfast, Esmond Birnie.

Dr Birnie accused the commission of being a "group of social engineers" who were making "a meddlesome muddle" of proposals, akin to a remnant of "faded 1960s-style radicalism".

That was Saturday. By Thursday we had Mr McGimpsey on the board. Say what you like about the Northern Ireland Office, it doesn't hold its horses when the UUP speaks.

I am a trifle concerned, however, in case the British government, its agents and servants, take similar action based on another resolution passed at the same conference.

There was some opposition to this resolution. Well, one vote actually.

It said there was no difference between "international and domestic terrorism" and called for the "same firm and resolute action against the IRA and their associates as is being applied to Osama bin Laden and his cohorts".

It was proposed by Trevor Wilson, a former member of the now thankfully defunct Police Authority. A gentleman of the cloth then rose to the podium, a Church of Ireland clergyman, the Rev. Eric Culbertson.

Dr Culbertson castigated the IRA for its "furtive act of decommissioning". There can be no blank cheques, he said, the UUP must pull out of the executive if IRA decommissioning isn't completed by February 2002.

One delegate, however, Roy Garland, did opine that Derry, west Belfast and south Armagh should not be carpet bombed, which would, he said (in an admirable understatement) "be seen internationally as unreasonable and misguided".

At the end of the debate, all but Mr Garland's hand went up to support similar tactics in the North as the US is using against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Returning to Mr McGimpsey's elevation to the board of the HRC. As a member of the Orange Order, he has affirmed that he was born a Protestant, of Protestant parents, was educated a Protestant, is married to a Protestant and has "never been in any way connected with the Church of Rome".

It was probably an oversight when he used his vote on Belfast City Council to elevate members of the PUP and UDP to high office, while repeatedly refusing to support Sinn Féin's place in the Lord Mayor's chair.

I take heart, however, from a statement made by the same gentleman when William McConnell, a loyalist double killer, was elected his deputy as vice-chairman of the West Belfast Unionist Association.

In 1982, Mr McConnell, who now renounces violence, murdered John Turnley (a Protestant landowner and nationalist councillor) in Carnlough - in front of his Japanese-born wife and two sons.

In 1980, Mr McConnell had murdered Catholic father-of-one, Rodney McCormick, outside his Larne home.

Mr McConnell claimed from the dock that he had been working for the SAS and had been told to fit a listening device at a pub in the picturesque Co. Antrim coastal resort of Cushendall, where he claimed Gerry Adams was a sometime visitor.

Asked about Mr McConnell's election, Mr McGimpsey said he had "broken the law and made himself amenable to the courts". People who did so, he said, had "paid their debts to society and must be allowed to perform their normal functions in society".

An enlightened and progressive statement, I think you will agree, and one that assures me that Mr McGimpsey will play a positive role on the HRC for as long as he graces it with his presence.

November 26, 2001

This article first appeared in the Ireland on Sunday's November 25, 2001 edition.