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A Charter of Rights for Ireland: An Unknown Quantity in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement
2007-10, Egan, Suzanne, Murray, Rachel
The basic aim of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was to try to achieve a political settlement to the conflict in Northern Ireland. While the channels for the settlement were to be primarily institutional, the importance of safeguarding the rights of both communities in Northern Ireland by addressing equality and justice issues was recognized, to varying degrees, by all parties to the process that led to the drafting of the Agreement. As the negotiations progressed, the human rights section of the Agreement grew exponentially, moving ‘from the margins to the mainstream’ so that the final Agreement contains a whole section on human rights protections. Not only have these particular elements of the Agreement come to fruition, but they also have received a considerable amount of public and political interest as well as academic comment and analysis. Buried within the human rights chapter, however, is a concept that has so far received minimal interest or enthusiasm from any quarter. That is the reference in paragraph 10 of the 'Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity' chapter to the possibility of establishing an all-island Charter of Rights. The purpose of this article is threefold. First, it traces the genesis of the Charter of Rights concept through to its inclusion in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement; secondly, it examines the approach thus far taken by the Joint Committee of the two human rights commissions to the task entrusted to them in relation to the Charter by the Agreement; and finally, it explores some of the issues that need to be considered and the challenges faced by that Committee in future efforts to assist in the construction of any such Charter. In so doing, it describes the political and legal difficulties faced in attempts not only to formulate agreement on human rights but also to create a legal document which may be applicable to two jurisdictions. It concludes by suggesting ways in which the project may be progressed.
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Casting a Cold Eye on the Origins and Development of an All-Island Charter of Rights
2010, Egan, Suzanne, Murray, Rachel
One of the most striking outcomes of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement ('Agreement') was the extent to which the establishment of human rights institutions and mechanisms was brought center-stage into the shaping of the political settlement. The dynamic talks process that led to the signing of the Agreement resulted in an extensive range of obligations in regard to human rights on the part of the Irish and British governments, many of which were implemented very soon afterwards. Paragraph 10 of the 'Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity' section of the Agreement makes mention of a trans-jurisdictional human rights initiative that would mimic the institutional arrangements provided for elsewhere in the Agreement. Specifically, it vests jurisdiction in a Joint Committee of the two Human Rights Commissions to 'consider, among other matters, the possibility of establishing [an all-island] charter [of Rights], open to signature by all democratic political parties, reflecting and endorsing agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in the island of Ireland. But, despite the implications of such a potentially transformative constitutional proposal, to date, the Charter has been the subject of negligible political engagement in both jurisdictions. Undoubtedly, there are a number vital issues that must be considered in attempts to construct an all-island Charter of Rights, given the numerous potential models for its implementation. Accordingly, in order to place the matter in context, Part I of this Essay reviews the background to the clause in the Agreement which envisaged the Charter; Part II discusses the progress that has been made to date by the Joint Committee in fulfilling its mandate; and finally, Part III offers some tentative reflections for a roadmap ahead in the current political climate.