Sinn Fein accuses DUP of blocking appointment of academic to Human Rights panel

The DUP has been accused of blocking a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland as well as opposing the appointment of an academic to a Stormont advisory panel.

A meeting of the Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee for a Bill of Rights was suspended on Thursday after Sinn Fein chair Emma Sheerin said it could not proceed without the appointment of the panel of experts as outlined in the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement.

Ms Sheerin and a party colleague said the panel of experts had been blocked because the DUP opposes the appointment of Colin Harvey, a professor of human rights law at Queen's University in Belfast.

The committee was established following the signing of the NDNA agreement last year which restored the powersharing executive at Stormont after after a three-year gap.

It is tasked with looking at the implications of a Bill of Rights and what it might include.

It has already carried out a public consultation and was expected to appoint a panel of five experts to guide it, but at the beginning of Thursday's committee meeting, Ms Sheerin told MLAs:

"We are now in a position where we have clear positions from all five parties and we have received position papers from all five parties.

"At this stage we still don't have a panel of experts - a panel of experts who are mandated by NDNA to guide us in this work and to help us establish a Bill of Rights for the north.

"It is clear from the DUP paper that they are opposed to the Bill of Rights.

They have suggested that a Bill of Rights should not focus on rights but instead on guiding principles and values.

"This explicit opposition to rights that is outlined in their paper is in line with the veto of the panel of experts, and everyone will be aware that the opposition to a panel of experts has been linked to one particular human rights expert who has been named as Colin Harvey.

"It is long past the days of no nationalist need apply, it now appears that we have a situation where no human rights expert need apply.

"This block from the DUP is unacceptable, it is undermining the work that we have all engaged in over the course of the past 20 months.

"It undermines the advice we have taken from academics and other experts and prevents us concluding this task which is set out for us in NDNA."

Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw said: "I was rather flabbergasted to read the DUP's response. The engagement we have had from across society here in Northern Ireland has been overwhelming in terms of the support for a Bill of Rights."

Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin said: "I am exasperated that in 2021 we have a situation where the biggest party is putting down what is effectively a bill of no rights.

"An eminent, internationally recognised human rights expert is being blocked and I think that sends out a very sad, a very depressing message."

UUP MLA Alan Chambers said the logjam was not within the committee but on the Executive.

But Ms Ni Chuilin responded: "I think just blaming it on TEO (the Executive Office) is an insult here. The blockage is with the DUP.

"The DUP have blocked a panel of experts because of Colin Harvey. That message is very loud and very clear."

The meeting was suspended following the passing of a motion from the chair.