South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Civil Rights to Bill of Rights - 40 years struggling for Rights

Published: 7 April, 2008

Civil Rights to Bill of Rights - 40 years struggling for Rights

Almost exactly 40 years since the birth of the Civil Rights campaign, the long struggle for genuine equality in Ireland took a step forward on Monday last, when the Bill of Rights Forum presented its long-awaited report.

The opulent surroundings of Belfast's Hilton Hotel - where the report was officially unveiled - is probably as far removed from Burntollet beach or the narrow terraces of Derry and Belfast as possible.

Four decades on, a cross section of our community, including political and civic representation, are still struggling for Equality, for Human Rights and an end to poverty. As someone who sat on the Bill of Rights working groups, I believe that

the Bill of Rights can be a protection against the abuse of power, which led to the civil rights campaign, 40 years ago.

A strong, enforceable Bill of Rights would compel the government to provide the necessary resources and legislation to tackle issues such as homelessness and poverty.

There are hundreds of thousands of children the length and breadth of Ireland who are living below the poverty line. A Bill of Rights would require the government to take whatever steps are necessary to address that issue over a given period of time.

It would also compel them to provide an adequate standard of living for all, to ensure that all employers pay a fair wage, to give our pensioners the assistance and dignity they deserve and to support families and carers in their day-to-day lives.

These are just a few examples of the very real differences in which a Bill of Rights can mean to the ordinary man and woman.

All of these rights are included in the Forum's report and there are many more. It recognises the need to protect and support the Irish language, the needs of victims, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups.

The report also enshrines the principle of Equality - which is of course a priority for Sinn Féin.

Sinn Fein has already secured some of the most progressive Equality legislation in Europe as part of the Good Friday Agreement. Recently, we built on that in the Assembly when we secured further Equality-proofing measures, which mean that all public spending will have to be used in such a way that it genuinely benefits those who need it most.

A Bill of Rights will further reinforce that commitment to Equality and this will make a very real and positive impact on people's lives.

Importantly, The Bill of Rights is a Good Friday Agreement commitment. It must be part of the full implementation of the agreement. No one section of our community has a veto on rights for all the people in this community. Our communities across this part of Ireland, demand that the wrongs of the past are not repeated. Those against the Bill of Rights want us to go back to the inequalities of the past. I am convinced that a strong Bill of Rights would provide a template to affect real change in Ireland and we have a responsibility to see the process through.