Dublin says it has assurances from UK over Belfast accord
Britain has told Ireland that its proposed Bill of Rights – to replace the Human Rights Act – will be consistent with the Good Friday Agreement. Justice Secretary Liz Truss has pledged Prime Minister Theresa May’s government to replace the Human Rights Act, a promise that was in last year’s Conservative Party election manifesto. But she has refused to be drawn out as to the proposed timetable or any detailed proposals.
As Home Secretary Theresa May floated the suggestion of replacing the Human Rights Act in a speech in which she said “we can protect human rights ourselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise national security or bind the hands of parliament.”
“A true British Bill of Rights, decided by Parliament and amended by parliament, would protect not only the rights set out in the convention, but could include traditional British rights not protected by the ECHR such as the right to trial by jury.”
But during her campaign for the Tory leadership Mrs May said she did not intend to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) when the UK leaves the European Union.
She said: “The reality is there will be no parliamentary majority for pulling out of the ECHR, so that is something I’m not going to pursue.”
This was repeated in diplomatic exchanges between the UK’s Foreign Office and Ireland. Now Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan has written to Fianna Fail TD for Cavan Monaghan Brendan Smith to say he received assurances from Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire at their meeting last month. Mr. Flanagan said Ireland will keep a close eye on UK plans for its own Bill of Rights because the Human Rights Act and ECHR are cornerstones of Ireland’s devolution deal.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald have also raised Ireland’s concerns with their UK opposite numbers about the potential risk of undermining the Good Friday Agreement. Mr. Flanagan told Deputy Smith, who represents a Border constituency, that Mr Brokenshire personally reassured him that any new rights bill will be consistent with the UK government’s Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreement obligations.
“The government will continue to monitor the situation closely. As co-guarantor of the Good Friday agreement, the government takes very seriously its responsibility to safeguard its institutions and principles, including in the area of human rights.”
Mr Brokenshire, who was then Home Secretary Theresa May’s right hand at the Home Office, said shortly after becoming Northern Secretary: “We would not like to see anything which would in any way seek to weaken or diminish the strong commitments that we have created and we would absolutely remain committed to. Yes, the Ministry of Justice in the UK is forming proposals around a British bill of rights: that’s obviously being considered very carefully and will be made available in due course.
“I would say very clearly that in doing so we do believe that we will be able to do that in a way that is entirely consistent with the Belfast agreement and the terms that are set out therein.”