Rights in a New Ireland: a golden opportunity

Sinn Féin’s Commission on the Future of Ireland hosted the latest in its series of events across the island on Friday, May 3, 2024. The Commission hosts community conversations about a wide variety of topics that are essential to the creation of a plan for a New and United Ireland for all. This Commission was focused on Rights in a New Ireland and featured campaigner and activist Ailbhe Smyth, Endowed Chair and Associate Professor in Human Rights at St Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada Dr, Shannonbrooke Murphy, Professor of Human Rights Law in the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast Colin Harvey, and Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Daniel Holder.

The event began with opening remarks by Sinn Féin’s Chair of the Commission on the Future of Ireland, Declan Kearney. He began by reminding everyone that under the GFA there was to be a Bill of Rights for the North as well as other protections.

“The Good Friday Agreement and the peace process have transformed Ireland, North and South. Our challenge is to complete the work commenced 26 years ago in the Agreement,” Kearny said. Twenty six years after the Agreement there is no Bill of Rights, no Civic Forum in the North, no all-Ireland Civic Forum, and no all-Ireland Charter of Rights.

“There is an onus on us to put in place strategies that promote understanding, an internationally compliant human rights system of laws & governance that incorporate rights, freedoms and responsibilities that guarantee civil and political rights.”

Once the panel got underway, an impressive discussion was had about how constitutional change could lead to enhanced access to rights.

Colin Harvey said there will be referendums on the future shape of Ireland and that he is for a new constitution in which equality, human rights, must be at its heart.

He added that we are on a pathway to new Ireland and that he is optimistic, though the Irish government is failing to plan & prepare for the future.

Brooke Murphy said we need to have discussions that excite, inspire, and actively respond to the human rights challenges ahead.

A contributor raised the importance of plain-language documents being needed for citizens to understand the issues of rights & equality. Shannonbrooke Murphy agrees and points to the South African example where they produced legal & popular versions. Colin Harvey agreed and said that language is crucial in informing citizens and that we must design mechanisms for inclusion and consensus.

Ailbhe Smyth described the rights process as one of “hope & excitement,” and added that this is a golden opportunity to build a new society.

Daniel Holder from the Committee on Administration of Justice pointed out that successive British governments have obstructed a Bill of Rights. We do have some rights but they are under threat. The British Government made the development of a Bill of Rights contingent on all-party agreement & that provides opponents of rights with a veto.

The events are not the only way to be a part of these vital conversations. The Commission is also asking for written ideas and opinions on Ireland’s future. These can be made through the dedicated Commission on the Future of Ireland page on the Sinn Féin website – www.sinnfein.ie/futureofireland or by emailing commission@sinnfein.ie.

The next Commission is scheduled for May 16th at the Balmoral Show and will focus on rural communities in a New Ireland. It will feature beef and dairy farmer John McCallister, Director of the Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network Louise Coyle, President of Macra na Feirme Elaine Houlihan, and will be chaired by Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew.