Human rights lawyer, Professor Colin Harvey quipped, the worst thing a person from Derry can do is move to Belfast before, on a graver note, warning members of the Oireachtas of a rights and equality crisis in the North.
The Derry-native told the Joint Committee on Justice & Equality there needed to be a debate about human rights on the island with the North due to depart the European Union at the end of March.
“I was born in Derry, but I have sold out and now live in Belfast. That is the worst thing a person from Derry can do, but I am an Irish citizen,” he joked.
However, the Queen’s University academic went on to make a much more serious point about the rights of Irish citizens in the North.
“The question for me in this conversation is the issue of my Irish identity which is about the human rights of everybody on the island,” he said.
“Throughout my life and career I have worked very hard for the human rights of everyone on the island, but specifically as an Irish citizen I want to know what the document actually means in practise,” he added.
The Derryman said there needed to be more Northern voices heard in the Oireachtas.
“I am Irish and European and want to know what rights I will have in the years ahead, having sold out and as someone now living and working in Belfast. Parliamentary Committee, such as the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality need to hear more from people like us. More northern voices need to be integrated into the work of this parliament and its committee system as one small step in realising some of the things about which we have talked,” declared Professor Harvey.
He warned of a human rights deficit in the North.
“I would put it as strongly as saying that there is a crisis in the North relating to rights and equality. Brexit is one part of that, but it is not the only part,” he told the committee.
“That said, I acknowledge that there have been advances since 1998. There is the Human Rights Act, the NI Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the section 75 equality duty.
"There have been important advances since 1998 in the protection and promotion of human rights but I would like to make clear at the start that the context in the North of this island is profoundly troubling,” he maintained.
He suggested London could help clear a pathway to the restoration of power-sharing by legislating for Irish language, same-sex marriage and reproductive rights.
“If the Westminster Parliament and Government can try to legislate to take NI out of the EU against its consent and without political consensus, why can it not legislate for some of the human rights and equality issues we have referred to today across a range of areas, including equal marriage, reproductive rights, language rights and the bill of rights?
The prize for the Westminster Parliament in taking that stand is potentially sustainable power-sharing government for a generation in the North, even with the ongoing paralysis caused by Brexit. Firm action is required. We need to acknowledge the crisis,” warned Professor Harvey.
Derry-born human rights expert, Professor Colin Harvey.