The News Letter is attempting to stimulate debate around what legislation might be usefully presented at Stormont, with a series of articles entitled ‘Laws We Need’.
By way of background, there has been some debate recently about the fact that months after the Assembly election there is still no agreed programme for government at Stormont; which would set out what the Executive would be focussing on over the next four years. Nor is there any sign of a definitive and substantial plan for Cohesion, Integration & Sharing; which would in itself go some way to shaping future Government programmes.
By contrast, the Scottish Executive has set out proposals for 16 pieces of legislation – everything from creating a single Scottish police force to a law tackling sectarianism, introducing minimum pricing for alcohol and an attempt to breathe new life into farming. A programme 2011-2012: just ONE YEAR!
Stormont is a ‘legislative assembly’. With devolution it was envisaged that the Executive would be able to address local issues through legislation. Yet week after week the assembly spends the bulk of its time either debating non-binding private members’ motions (bit like the local Councils) or the often scripted ministers’ question time slots (Jim Allister notwithstanding).
The News Letter series is intended to provide a platform space for individuals to set out one or two, proposals on which Stormont should legislate. In the first couple of weeks or so, although the series is barely into its swing, some contributors seem to be at a loss on the nature and role of legislation: though for clarity they probably shouldn’t ask an MLA.
thedissenter’s contribution is not an original idea, but in that respect is entirely possible.
This following appeared in the Belfast News Letter on Monday 17 October 2011, with minor amends.
One Rights body for all.
In the current economic environment there is intense pressure on Government at all levels to assure public finances are used efficiently and effectively, and to avoid duplication or gold-plating.
At Westminster, the 2007 merger of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) into the new, single, Equality and Human Rights Commission was given muscle by the Equality Act 2010 which brought together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one single Act, merging nine main pieces of legislation (1970-2007). The Act underscored the Commission’s statutory remit to promote, protect, enforce and promote equality across the nine “protected” grounds – age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment; and to promote and monitor human rights (the Human Rights Act).
In Northern Ireland we have only recently had yet another ‘Commission’ added to a line up that includes an Equality Commission, Commission for Victims & Survivors, Commission for Children and Young People, and Human Rights Commission. The most recent addition is a Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland.
These Commissions seem only to serve the lobby group interests, dressed up to suggest that there is a representative voice for your particular interest/rights. The Human Rights Commission review of a Bill of Rights showed how ‘group’ rights are so embedded in the culture of the political classes in Northern Ireland.
While it is too early for the Older People Commissioner to make a massive impression on public discourse, the record of the rest would suggest we shouldn’t be holding our breath. If you believe this viewpoint to be unfair, then please use the letters page of the News Letter to bring to our attention the outstanding successes of any of the above.
It would of course have been a waste of legislative time on the Commissioner for Older People had there been other more pressing matters to fill our MLA’s Assembly schedule. That this is one of few items the Assembly has to show for its existence leaves nothing much to add by way of comment. Other than providing comfortable Commissioner jobs for ever-so worthy individuals, with nice offices, it is hard to see the justification for so many offices and commissioners when a single body would do, and a template is already there. Equal citizens, equal rights.
More government is an easy solution where there is only a vague question. More Government is rarely, if ever, conducive to good Government. Forget the Bill of Rights. Better use of legislative time would be to bring forward legislation creating one definitive and focused Equality and Human Rights Commission for Northern Ireland, abolishing the rest.