A Letter from Ireland
There seems to be more chaos than progress in politics lately, both globally and locally. Speculation is mounting that the leadership of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could be challenged. If he is replaced, the new occupant of 10 Downing Street will be the third prime minister installed without an election.
The current crisis is due to the resignation of a senior Minister who was to introduce the government’s new Bill on Immigration. He believed that it did not go far enough as it was still bound by human and civil rights laws, namely the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The application of the Convention is an explicit commitment in the Good Friday Agreement. This international legislation is important as it binds the British to the minimal recognition of the rights of citizens.
The British system is without a constitution. A government with a parliamentary majority can change the laws and rights of its citizens as it sees fit. The British parliamentary system is bound only by the framework of international agreements and laws, and domestic legal precedents. A parliament can abandon these agreements and legislate at will.
It is only the international community that can hold the British Government to account as bad faith actors.
This issue is not only restricted to immigration. Early on in the Brexit process, a British Minister stood up in Westminster to declare that new legislation would only break international law in a limited way. Just imagine trying that defense to a cop: “Yes, I do intend to break that speed limit but I have the right to do so in a limited way.”
Earlier this year the same government passed the Legacy and Reconciliation Act that prevents victims of violence during the conflict from accessing the courts, police ombudsman investigations, or even an inquest for their loved ones.
This legislation breaks several agreements with the Irish government and political parties. It is also a clear breach of the rights of citizens under the ECHR. It has been left up to victims to litigate against this act.
The Irish Government could and should take the British Government to the European Courts for breach of the Convention. This would expedite the legal process by 10 years. So far they have failed to do so.
When countries can walk away from international agreements, laws, and institutions people suffer.
Russia felt free to invade Ukraine. Israel has long been in breach of international laws and agreements. None of which is an excuse for the brutality of Hamas. Israel is now bombing schools, hospitals, and UN resources. None of which is excused by the actions of Hamas.
Here is the thing, when the rule of law is undermined, the rule of force takes over. The UN has been relegated to a spectator. The international community needs to assert the rule of law.
Governments, like nonstate actors, must be held to account. Chaos must make way for peace and progress.
Have a great weekend.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.