'Bill of Rights' for Northern Ireland
Catalogue reference: CJ 4/13


E.R.
Northern Ireland
Bill of Rights

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) are proposing that a petition be presented to the Westminster Parliament requesting the Government to introduce a Bill of Rights which would so amend the government of Ireland Act 1920 as to write into the constitution of Northern Ireland:-
(i)
Recognition of the right of citizens of Northern Ireland to free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly, procession and demonstration without the threat of bans and proscription.
(ii)
Recognition of freedom of the press and publication to the same extent as prevails in Great Britain.
(iii)
Recognition of the right of organisations and parties with lawful political objects to organise freely and openly for their attainment.
(iv)
Recognition of the right of citizens of Northern Ireland to hold public office and employment without having to take oaths and political tests beyond what is required for similar employment in Great Britain.
(v)
Recognition of the right to fair electoral boundaries and local administrative areas.
(vi)
Recognition of the right of citizens to be employed in either public or private employment without discrimination on grounds of religion, race or political belief.
2. The fear of discrimination against a minority has always been present in our efforts to bring about a settlement of the Irish problem. The 1920 Act, which originally was designed to apply both north and south of the Border, contains provisions which make it unconstitutional for Parliament to enact laws of a discriminatory kind and equally prohibit the Government in its executive decisions from any such action. This has not, as we know,
prevented discrimination and the succession of laws recently enacted in Northern Ireland has been designed to correct this. Moreover H.M.G. has joined with the Northern Ireland Government in giving an assurance of equality for all citizens of Northern Ireland; the joint communique issued from Downing Street in August 1969 included the declaration that -
  "in all legislation and executive decisions of Government every citizen of Northern Ireland is entitled to the same equality of treatment and freedom from discrimination as obtains in the rest of the United Kingdom irrespective of political views or religion."
3. To contemplate a "Bill of Rights" is somewhat foreign to our way of thinking. No one Westminster law sets out to confer civil rights on the people; they exist and are confirmed as may be necessary in statute law, decisions of the Courts, common law, custom and convention. And this will be increasingly true in Northern Ireland. On the other hand the minority compare themselves with coloured people in this country and they point to the necessity here for our Race Relations legislation and ask for its extension to religion and its application to Northern Ireland.
4. The following paragraphs seek to relate the NICRA demands to current developments in Northern Ireland. All have been taken aboard in one way or another and unless progress is seriously impeded by untoward political developments in the Province it should not be too long before the claim can be made that demands incorporated in the proposed Bill of Rights have been substantially met in other ways. The minority has, naturally, to be convinced of this; Cardinal Conway's recent assessment of the Roman Catholic minority was heartening in that it seemed that they were beginning to appreciate what was afoot. The post-Easter violence and the election of Protestant Unionists may have upset this.

close window
image
back to top of page