Human Rights and Equality Issues
The Agreement included new and enhanced provisions on Human Rights and Equality Issues with steps to be taken, North and South, including the establishment of Human Rights Commissions, and a range of commitments on economic, social and cultural issues, including on the promotion and use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. The equality and human rights agenda set out in the Agreement was further elaborated in the Joint Declaration by the British and Irish Governments in April 2003 (PDF 88kb).
Since the Agreement was signed considerable progress has been made in implementing its Human Rights and Equality provisions.
Human Rights Commissions have been established in both jurisdictions. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission began its work on 1 March 1999, while the Commission in the South was established in July 2001.
Under the Agreement, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was mandated to consult and advise on the possibility of establishing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Work on this issue is continuing.
In addition, a Joint Committee comprising the Commissions North and South has been established as a forum to consider human rights issues on the island of Ireland. The Committee meets alternately in Dublin and Belfast to discuss issues of mutual concern, including cross-border issues such as migration and racism and the possibility of establishing an all-island Charter of Rights.
The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland began its work on 1 October 1999. It took over the functions previously exercised by the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland, the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland, the Fair Employment Commission and the Northern Ireland Disability Council.
Under the Agreement the Government is charged with ensuring at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as pertains in Northern Ireland. To tackle discrimination both in the workplace and in the non-employment sphere, the Irish Government has put in place enhanced Employment Equality and Equal Status legislation. In keeping with its obligations under the Agreement on 7 May 1999 Ireland ratified the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities. In addition, the European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into Irish Law on 1 January 2004.