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2 Quit Human Rights Commission

October Fifth Association

The October Fifth (1968 Civil Rights Veterans and Supporters) Association (OFA), has expressed its concern at the resignations, this week, of two members of the Human Rights Commission. The group stated, “Regretfully, we feel we must concur with one of the dissident commissioners who described the much heralded HRC as “a toothless organization”. This development must surely undermine the work of this much-needed commission, and bring into question the effectiveness of this and other institutions established under the much-hyped Good Friday Agreement, which falls far short of what was on offer at Sunningdale in 1974.”

The statement continued: “Our association is confident that the presence of such figures as Ms. Inez McCormack and Professor Christine Bell on the HRC brought an air of reality from grass-roots level to that body. Alas, their resignations reveal that there is indeed much cause for concern for progressive-minded people who wish to advance the cause of human rights and civil liberties. Their action has come as a shock not only to scores of community organizations, but to the media and even the Chief Commissioner himself, Professor Brice Dickson. That the HRC do not seem to have been aware even of the possibility of such, would suggest that other commissioners must not have been listening closely enough to what such well-respected figures as McCormack and Bell were articulating. Those who remain clearly did not appreciate the depth of feeling on urgent and diverse matters which led to these highly unexpected resignations.”

The OFA said, “Both women did not go silently, but rightly spoke out, explaining that their decision to quit the HRC was based on their belief that its independence and effectiveness had been compromised. Many will share their disappointment at the commission’s apparent inability to genuinely protect and promote the body’s officially-endorsed and proclaimed objectives. “

In their letters to the Secretary of State, Dr. John Reid, their serious concerns were highlighted. The OFA warns: “Reid’s reaction, no doubt will be to see it all as a storm in a tea-cup, which it most certainly is not, in so far as the hopes of countless thousands of citizens have been seriously undermined, if not totally dashed by such high-profile resignations.”

The OFA insists: “Independence is crucial if the HRC is to be taken seriously. It should never be compromised, especially at such a crucial time for the Six Counties and Ireland as a whole. Ms. Mc Cormack, as regional secretary of Unison, is not one who exists in a vacuum, but is in daily contact with ordinary people and their problems. Before Dr. John Reid tries to sweep these resignations under the carpet, let him either agree or disagree with these resigned commissioners’ assertion that at the inception of the HRC they, and we all, has been led to believe that this body would have the power to demand that government departments would impart information on human rights cases. These resignations show that this has never been the case. But the GFA supposedly asserted and promoted such positive inter-action between officialdom and the HRC.”

Both former commissioners went on to state that the government withheld such powers in its own self-interest, thus rendering the body “toothless”, in their opinion. The civil rights’ veterans group noted: “To state that the HRC does not use the resources and powers that it does have, Ms. McCormack exposes major failings, as well as issues of concern to most intelligent members of the public. One of her specific examples related to the current debate about the Human Rights Bill.”

In her letter of resignation Ms. McCormack wrote: “Political parties and civil society are just at the beginning of an exploration on how best to engage in the debate on a bill of rights. This difficult, serious process needs time and space. The commission, however, in my view, still is pursuing an approach to this debate that risks polarizing it and rushing it, thereby closing its potential as a process that can assist in building peace”.

The OFA continued: “All of us must be concerned that both former commissioners expressed the view that the HRC lacked direction and was not “delivering practical change”. Ms. McCormack stressed, “It doesn’t have sufficient resources, but even with what it has, it is not making a difference.”

The OFA added, “As a trade unionist she naturally placed emphasis on many issues such as health, education and work which had huge cross-community consensus. She alleged, “Instead of the debate focusing on these which would have built consensus, the commission has focused on issues of division.”

“Ms. McCormack, who has a high profile well beyond the trade-union movement, must be listened to when she states: “We honourably believe resigning is the right thing to do – the debate on human rights is more important than protecting an institution”. The October Fifth Association fully endorses those sentiments, and will be writing to the Chief Commissioner to express our grave concerns.

The Chief Commissioner, Professor Brice Dickson, has been a frequent visitor to Derry. He has jointly shared platforms with such local civil rights veterans as Mr. Ivan Cooper, a former Minister of Community Relations in the ill-fated power-sharing assembly of 1974, the SDLP ’s Mrs. Brig Rodgers MLA, and Mr. Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, a co-founder of NICRA in1967. Yesterday Mr. O’Dochartaigh, the OFA’s hon. secretary, who has known Mr. Dickson for many years, commented: “It would appear that we have been collectively conned, yet again. Where is the valour if those under the flag of St. George permit merely a toothless dragon to enter the public arena? Let’s hope that it has enough fire left in its belly to defend the public interest. We will be contacting Prof. Dickson because we now have grave reservations about the supposed autonomous claims for the HRC within the Good Friday Agreement. One should view these resignations as a wake-up call for all of us. Was this not surely the specific intention behind these resignations?”, he concluded.

The OFA is calling on local people to contact the HRC, which can be e-mailed via
NIHRC@belfast.org.uk The civil rights veterans cordially invite responses via oct5th_vets68@hotmail.com



 

 

 

 

 

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Openly questioning the way the world works and challenging the power of the powerful is not an activity customarily rewarded.
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Index: Current Articles

15 September 2002

 

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Suppression of Dissent: What it is and what to do about it
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Yes, Yes, RUC, It's The Force to Set Us Free

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2 Quit Human Rights Commission
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What's Good For the Goose
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A Burning Issue
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The Letters Page has been updated.

 

12 September 2002

 

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Prevent the Bush Turkey Shoot
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The 96th Life
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