Mark Durkan says Britain's failure to fulfil Good Friday Agreement rights pledges is 'hugely damaging' to sustainability of peace
The sustainability of the peace process has been damaged hugely by the British Government's failure to legislate for a Bill of Rights as well as other explicit commitments within the Good Friday Agreement, former SDLP leader Mark Durkan has claimed.
Mr. Durkan, one of the key architects and negotiators of the international peace settlement of 1998, said Britain has failed to fulfil many promises and pledges of 23 years ago.
He made the observation at a meeting of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill Committee at Westminster this week.
Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones asked: "So much of the Good Friday agreement, which you helped to negotiate, is still not implemented. How important do you believe that this failure to implement key elements such as a Bill of Rights has been to damaging the sustainability of the peace process?"
The former Foyle MP said: "I think it has damaged it hugely. For too long, Governments and others have tried to pretend it is as though the tyre is only flat at the bottom whenever we do not have the rights, provisions and promises of the Good Friday agreement upheld and implemented.
"It is not just that the Bill of Rights has not been implemented; we have seen regression in recent years because there were absolutely explicit commitments in the Good Friday agreement to the European convention on human rights, of it being accessible in the domestic courts in Northern Ireland and that it could be used specifically to allow the courts to strike down legislation in the Assembly."
Mr. Durkan recalled how the late former Labour Secretary of State for the north Mo Mowlam had focused on rights, equal rights, equality and other safeguards.
He said she had helped deliver a strong Equality Commission and Human Rights Commission for the north.
"The fact is that subsequent Governments adopted a position that said: 'Well, we’re not really going to move on a Bill of Rights unless there is total agreement among the parties.'
"The way the Good Friday agreement was written, it charged Westminster with the responsibility to legislate for a Bill of Rights, on top of its commitment to ensure that the European convention on human rights would apply to all public authorities and bodies.
"We did not get to follow through on that as far as the additional provisions of a Bill of Rights alongside the European convention is concerned, but in the post-Brexit legislation, we have seen holes being drilled into the commitments that are made there to the European convention on human rights.
"Now, Ministers of the Crown have powers—it is almost like a form of direct overrule—to supersede decisions and choices at the devolved level in the name, for instance, of protecting the internal market of the UK.
"Those decisions can completely ignore any concerns around the European convention on human rights and a public body is actually forbidden to cite concerns about the European convention on human rights as to why it would not comply with what a Minister of the Crown has said. We have gone well off-road in what was envisaged in the Good Friday agreement in respect of rights," Mr. Durkan declared.