Northern Ireland news

Watchdogs warn of 'real threat to human rights' over government plans to alter Northern Ireland protocol

An anti-Northern Ireland Protocol sign close to Larne Port. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Allan Preston

TWO watchdog bodies in Northern Ireland have promised to hold the government to account over "a real threat to human rights" caused by changes to the protocol.

Concerns have been raised that a government bill designed to tear up parts of the protocol will clash with protections set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

A joint report from the Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has now set out how rights could be protected in the future.

ECNI chief commissioner, Geraldine McGahey said: “People need clarity regarding which of their rights are protected from diminution after Brexit.

"A key priority for both commissions was to set out what we considered to be the extent of rights and laws that fall within the scope of the Protocol."

While stating that the courts would remain "the ultimate decision maker," she said the report would now act as a crucial guide for officials, lawyers and public bodies.

“With this information, the commissions will be able to better hold the government to account should potential breaches occur and provide advice and assistance to those individuals concerned about their post Brexit rights," she added.

NIHRC chief commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick said: "Today's launch is positive but is against a backdrop of real threat to human rights, not least by the proposed reform of the Human Rights Act.

"In this context Protocol Article 2 is an essential safeguard in the protection of human rights and equality for all the people of Northern Ireland.

“It is critical that Protocol Article 2 and its oversight mechanisms are not weakened, in law or in practice.

"The architecture and institutions of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Ireland/NI Protocol must remain strong so that the rights and safeguards envisaged really are upheld.

"We will continue to work together to ensure the protection of human rights and equality.

"We will, as prescribed by statute, be steadfast in holding the UK government to account for compliance with their commitment."

Northern Ireland news