This platform piece by Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA, appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday 27 July 2017.
"Sinn Fein Chairman Declan Kearney has become the latest member of his party to lecture the rest of us about rights.
In a recent article he stated that a bill of rights was the only platform on which to build sustainable government.
Despite the fact that the Belfast Agreement established the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and tasked it with consulting and advising on the scope for defining in Westminster legislation ‘rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.’
The Ulster Unionist Party has consistently supported the concept of a UK Bill of Rights with any supplementary rights specific to Northern Ireland that are identified. We simply do not need to reinvent the wheel with a separate Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
I do however welcome the opportunity to respond to Declan Kearney given recent repeated demands by various Sinn Fein figures for ‘respect’ and the implementation of previous agreements with reference to various European treaties and commitments, particularly in terms of language.
Respect is of course a two-way street and it has been sadly lacking for decades when it comes to political debate in Northern Ireland.
The debate around language and culture is often couched in terms of groups or individuals – particularly republicans - demanding rights. In the real world, rights come with responsibilities.
The Council of Europe’s 1995 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities states that ‘the protection of national minorities is essential to stability, democratic security and peace in this continent' in Section III it says -
‘In the exercise of the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention, any person belonging to a national minority shall respect the national legislation and the rights of others, in particular those belonging to the majority or to other national minorities.’
‘Nothing in the present framework Convention shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or perform any act contrary to the fundamental principles of international law and in particular of the sovereign equality, territorial integrity and political independence of States.’
In terms of Northern Ireland, no-one could seriously say that Sinn Fein has respected the national legislation and the rights of others, in particular those belonging to the majority or to other national minorities. Nor has Sinn Fein respected the fundamental principles of international law and in particular of the sovereign equality, territorial integrity and political independence of the UK.
Sinn Fein’s actions have been in stark contrast to the main nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales – the SNP and Plaid Cymru - who have both respected the institutions of the State and attend Westminster. Sinn Fein do neither. Sinn Fein has never even accepted the right of Northern Ireland to exist and cannot even bring itself to say the words ’Northern Ireland’.
Sinn Fein also say they want to see the implementation of previous Agreements. In that case Sinn Fein needs to implement the Belfast Agreement which states that the participants “recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Sinn Fein cannot ask for respect when they themselves refuse to show it. Is time to end the hypocrisy."