The Bill of Rights saga has been a total disaster, partly due to the approach taken by the Commission, and partly because unionists are averse to such a thing in the first place. Which we might consider a bit ironic given that one of the major things guaranteeing civil and religious liberty (for male Protestant property-owners anyway) under King Billy was in fact a Bill of Rights. First as tragedy, then as farce eh?
The topic came up recently in the Assembly at Stormont, with Dawn Purvis of the PUP taking the lead. Interestingly, she raised the point that the conditions that bred the Troubles – discrimination in jobs and housing among other things – would have been prevented by a strong Bill of Rights, much to the annoyance of a UUP sensitive over its shameful record. A strong and enforceable Bill of Rights has been a central plank of Workers’ Party policy in NI for decades, and remains so. So it’s good to see someone standing up for a bill of rights on class grounds, even if it is couched in terms of working class protestants.
The lack of honesty in the other unionist parties in this chamber is disheartening,” said Ms Purvis.
“Are they afraid that if the Protestant working classes fully understood and recognised their own rights, they would then have expectations of a more equitable society?
“Are they afraid that they couldn’t then deliver such a society? Or do they just not want to deliver such a society?”
She added: “The duplicity continues. Every week the parties in this chamber wax lyrical about how hard they are working on the issues they are seeing in their constituency offices.
“Problems with housing, access to medication and adequate care, mental health services, the post-primary transfer and the guarantee of a decent education.
“What exactly do they think these are? These are rights for which people are seeking protection.”
Hard to argue with a lot of that, especially when the DUP and Ulster Unionists remain hostile. Dawn Purvis was calling for a public consultation on the issue. Personally I’d rather see the government produce a bill of rights. Can’t see it happening though.