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17 January 2008 Edition

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Unionists have nothing to fear from rights

Martina at launch of Sinn Féin’s Unionist Outreach programme

Martina at launch of Sinn Féin’s Unionist Outreach programme

By Martina Anderson MLA

THE call for a Bill of Rights and an All-Ireland Charter for Rights is greater than ever. Throughout Ireland, whether it be government policy, the budget, the rights of ethnic minorities, child poverty, citizenship or Six-County parades, the demand for a ‘people’s document’ safeguarding their human rights is overdue.
By their nature worldwide, Bills of Rights have positively benefited and contributed to the democratic structures of governance and to the generation of societies where human rights and equality are visibly valued and practised in public and private life, decision-making and in daily interaction.
We have, as a society emerging from conflict, the opportunity to mould, within a Bill of Rights, the kind of society we want to live in and hand over to future generations. This task is by no means easy yet it is probably one of the most significant contributions we all can make to ensure that our structures of governance and our decisions and attitudes are guided by the principles contained in a Bill of Rights.
Some sections of unionism have portrayed a Bill of Rights negatively, arguing that it will take away from the legislative, legal and democratic aspects of decision making by politicians and the courts. This is not the nature of Bills of Rights in the international experience, where they serve as the standard by which governments seek to attain a better quality of life for their citizens. In the international human rights community, Bills of Rights are constructed and viewed as a key barometer against which democracy itself can be measured.
Sinn Féin asks unionist leaders to be long-sighted on this issue. The socio-economic problems affecting working-class unionist communities are parallel to those in nationalist areas. There is no such thing as exclusively nationalist rights or exclusively unionist rights. Rather, there is common ground in the needs of both communities. This is a building block for a fresh start and for a post-conflict society.
What the recent Church of Ireland Gazette opinion piece has done is opened up a debate on this issue. It’s now time to inform people of their rights and what they are entitled to. No one wants to go back to misrule and this is a way to ensure this. We have no agenda other than the vision which is one of working to secure the rights of all the people who live here and looking also, as we are required to in the Good Friday Agreement, to an all-island Charter of Rights.
Those particular circumstances are centred around the conditions which derived from partition and its negative consequences for all our people, regardless of political beliefs. These circumstances are also rooted in our own post-conflict situation, as was the case in South Africa.
The Bill of Rights is yet another building block to address these circumstances that can assist the process of cementing the kind of society we need to see emerging out of the past. It is our view as republicans that a Bill of Rights can strongly underpin the entire context of democratic governance that is based on the principles of equality and human rights for all.
That is the approach we have taken and will continue to take in our engagement in the Bill of Rights Forum. Our vision is based squarely on the basis of seeking a Bill of Rights that upholds and protects the rights of the poorest and most marginalised in our society, the elderly, our disabled, our ethnic minorities, our women and our children, regardless of their race, colour, sexual orientation, gender, religion or no religion.
What we have in the Bill of Rights is an investment for the future. We now need to build on this further by going out to the public in the few months ahead and to then bring forward our recommendations so that the final stage of the process is completed, the Bill legislated for and, most importantly of all, put into everyday practice on the ground. That is the best guarantee we have of securing people’s ownership of this Bill of Rights. Who should fear this? No one.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
  • This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
  • Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
  • Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.

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