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Bill of rights nothing but a left-wing wish list

(Newton Emerson, Irish News)

So how are things going at the bill of rights forum? Discussion on Northern Ireland's very own bill of rights has been under way since February 2001.

An early draft emerged two years later and the present, supposedly final, consultation exercise began last November.

This comprises six working groups covering areas such as justice, victims, culture and identity.

The groups themselves comprise politicians of all hues plus the usual collection of quango stalwarts and civic worthies. They are due to report next March, after a mere seven years – not long for these intellectual giants to think up something not already covered by the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the UK Human Rights Act.

But the gist of the final bill is already clear from the working group reports. The equality working group, for example, has decided that parents should be denied their legal power of "reasonable chastisement" because this "reflects unequal social power relationships".

The children's working group has decided that all children have the right to "information and guidance" on "matters of sex and sexuality" – whether or not their unequally powerful parents believe that such guidance means no information on sex before adolescence.

The equality working group thinks "offensiveness" equals discrimination and the implementation working group thinks this should be a criminal offence – so don't say anything offensive about the state-mandated sexualisation of your pre-teen children.

The social issues working group has chickened out on abortion, ruling only that "the reproductive health of women shall be protected" – thereby protecting the political careers of everyone involved. However, that's not to say that these people lack ambition.

The various working groups have concluded that everyone in Northern Ireland has the right to a home, a job and "an adequate standard of living". Not a right to pursue these things, mark you – but simply a right to them, period, "irrespective of the availability of a country's resources".

The economic working group also wants "the need to allocate resources in a proportionate manner" – or socialism, as we used to call it – written into law.

But as with all such utopias, some will be more equal than others.

An "interpretive clause" demanded by the economic working group will compel government to "advance inter-agency responsibility for the enforcement of economic and social rights" – ensuring lucrative employment for the quango class until the end of time.

There is so much material in the working group reports that it is difficult to convey their full awfulness here, so I urge you to browse a few yourself online at

To plough through their prose is to enter another world. In this other world, where human freedom is supposedly a guiding principle, the state is all and the individual is barely permitted to exist.

Early arguments over the bill of rights centred on the fundamental incompatibility between individual rights and so-called "group rights".

Having finally realised that one directly contradicts the other, the working groups have reluctantly decided to recognise individuals as "persons belonging" to groups – or collectivism, as we used to call it.

This collectivist instinct runs deep in the bill of rights consultees. For all their talk of political rights they tolerate no alternative view on the concept of rights themselves, let alone even qualified views on multiculturalism, equality and diversity, "respect" for which they feel should be legally enforceable. They have not paused for one moment to consider how all this nonsense might be paid for, nor considered that attempting to do so would deprive many people of their homes and jobs. Instead, they have produced a ludicrous left-wing wish-list dressed up in the language of universal humanity. Northern Ireland has rarely witnessed a spectacle so absurd as this clique of provincial functionaries presuming to improve on the work of the enlightenment philosophers.

But they have got one thing right.

Publication of the bill of rights will be a turning point for Northern Ireland.

It is certain to be so excessive, so undeliverable and so outrageously agenda-laden in its demands and ambitions that it will sink the political project behind it once and for all.

Lawyers, judges and academics might ponder it as a curiosity but everyone else will baulk at its cost and its arrogance.

It will be left on a thousand shelves to gather dust while Ireland, north and south, soars into a very different future.

And when that happens, I'll say this for the bill's supporters: they'll have the right to be very upset.

October 15, 2007

This article appeared first in the October 11, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News