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7 March 2016 Edition

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Human rights threatened by British European exit

• Contributors to the discussion on the implications for human rights of a Brexit

‘The farming community and agriculture would lose £2.5billion of financial support and funding and the Tories have shown no interest in supporting rural communities’ – Sinn Féin Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill MLA

A BRITISH EXIT from the EU would pose a serious threat to human rights in the North and undermine the Good Friday Agreement,  a major conference in Belfast hosted by Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson heard on 29 January.

Labour MEP Claude Moraes, Chair of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, speaking to An Phoblacht ,warned:

“People don’t understand the linkages between the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the Good Friday Agreement.”

He believes a British withdrawal from Europe will see the replacement of the RHA with a British Bill of Rights which will have “big implications” for human rights.

Moraes praised Sinn Féin’s MEPs who, he said, are doing “a good job in raising political concerns” about a ‘Brexit’ and the threat to civil liberties.

According to a paper presented to the conference by solicitors from two famous human rights law firms – Kevin Winter’s KRW Law in Belfast and the Doughty Street chambers in London – the current British Government has declared that it will “scrap” the Human Rights Act 1998.

The threat, contained in the Conservative general election manifesto, also stated that a Tory government would introduce a “British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK”.

This in turn, according to the legal paper, will restrict the role and influence of the European Court of Human Rights in British law and treat its judgments as advisory only and would clearly undermine the authority of the Court’s demand for Article 2 compliant inquiries into state killings in the North.

Representing Relatives for Justice at the conference was Andrée Murphy, who said:

“The families we work with depend on the Human Rights Act for any kind of remedy and in the absence of any mechanism for truth and justice the courts are the only place where they can get any acknowledgement of what they endured.”

Given that the Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement signed by the Irish Government it is welcomed that the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has agreed that the protection of human rights is a key principle underpinning the agreement.

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• Pádraig Mac Lochlainn with Belfast Sinn Féin group – he described the British Tories as having a 'slash and cut' mentality

The lawyers’ document quotes him saying: 

“As a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government takes very seriously our responsibility to safeguard the Agreement . . . The fundamental role of human rights in guaranteeing peace and stability in Northern Ireland must be fully respected.”

Earlier in the day, the economic consequences of a British withdrawal were discussed with the North’s Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill stating clearly:

“Brexit would be catastrophic and the agri-food sector across the whole island would suffer.

“The farming community and agriculture would lose £2.5billion of financial support and funding and the Tories have shown no interest in supporting rural communities.”

Nigel Smyth, Chair of the North’s Confederation of British Industry (CBI), worried that the North would be exposed to trade barriers and border controls.

He feared ‘Brexit’ would “lead to the loss of £1billion a year” from the North’s economy.

Describing the conference “a good start in the debate”, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson said:

“Europe needs serious and radical democratic reform, however, we believe that a British withdrawal from the European Union would have serious implications for Ireland, North and South, with the possible return of border controls and adverse effects on the economy, trade, agriculture as well as the impact it would have on community and social projects that depend on EU funding for their existence.

“David Cameron has stated that a referendum is likely to take place as early as September 2016 and therefore it is imperative that the Irish people are made aware of the disastrous implications this could have for our island as a whole.”

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