Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin backs call for Brice Dickson resignation

13 November, 2003

Following today's call by Human Rights Commissioners Paddy Kelly and Frank McGuinness for the Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson to resign Sinn Féin has today added its support to their position. Belfast City Councillor Chrissie McAuley, who manages Sinn Féin's Human Rights and Equality team said:

"Without doubt today‚s revelations by Commissioners Paddy Kelly and Frank McGuinness regarding the extent to which the Human Rights Commission's independence has been compromised has serious implications for the entire Commission.

"They show further serious breaches of conduct by the Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson in relation to the Holy Cross case and reveal that the Commission‚s independence has been compromised by the direct involvement of the NIO in preparing the Human Rights Commission's Action Plan.

"For some considerable time now Sinn Féin has been of the view that the Commission is broken and needs fixed.

"We reached this conclusion after prolonged engagement with the Commission about our well-founded concerns about core elements of the Good Friday Agreement, which have been raised by others in the human rights and equality constituencies. The Human Rights Commission ignored this.

"The Chief Commissioner has refused to take any of this on board. Accordingly we believe that his continued position as Chief Commissioner is untenable and he should resign. If he refuses, we believe that the British government, which is responsible for appointments, should remove the Chief Commissioner from his post.

"The Human Rights Commission then needs to be completely reconstructed to restore public confidence in an essential mechanism of the Good Friday Agreement."ENDS

Note for editors:

Key factors that have influenced Sinn Féin's position are:

Between December 2001 and March 2002 the Chief Commissioner acted in a highly inappropriate manner in relation to the Holy Cross case by entering into correspondence with the respondent in the case, former RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan, and expressed the view that the case had no merit. This was done without the prior knowledge or approval of the parent taking the case or with the prior knowledge of solicitors acting in the case.

In March 2002 Ronnie Flanagan wrote to the Chief Commissioner telling him that he both wanted to use the letter as evidence in court and urging the Chief Commissioner to withdraw funding from the case. At a subsequent Commission meeting Brice Dickson proposed dropping the Holy Cross case and later said this was because of its likely cost and not because of pressure from Flanagan.

Between September 2002 and July 2003 a total of three Commissioners resigned from the Human Rights Commission on issues giving them concern at the Commission's approach on Bill of Rights matters around equality, community/minority definitions and the implications of this on existing fair employment protections.

July 15th 2003 - The Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights focuses on a range of recommendations which highlight problems within the Commission and for the first time bring to public light the detail of the Holy Cross case and the Chief Commissioner‚s role in it.

July 17th 2003 - Irish News interview with resigned Commissioners Inez McCormack and Professor Christine Bell detail their concerns regarding the Commission‚s approach on Good Friday Agreement, Bill of Rights issues and the Holy Cross

July 18th 2003 - Sinn Féin seeks urgent meetings with both governments on the matter and calls for any further appointments to the Commission to be halted and for a programme of complete reconstruction of the Commission.

July 23rd 2003 - The Irish News interviews Brice Dickson regarding Holy Cross and other issues relating to the Commission‚s work. The Chief Commissioner‚s responses raise further concerns about his stewardship of the Commission overall.

July 30th 2003 - A Sinn Féin delegation led by Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún meet with the Human Rights Commission. After several hours the prognosis is that the Commission and the Chief Commissioner provided less than satisfactory and indeed ambiguous answers to serious issues, in particular, Holy Cross. The SDLP also meet the Commission and conclude that serious questions of tenability remain.

September 12th 2003 Commissioners Paddy Kelly and Frank McGuinness withdraw from the business of the Commission.

October 15th 2003 The Human Rights Commission launches its Action Plan in a bid to answer criticisms. It now emerges that the Action Plan was constructed with the direct involvement of the NIO.

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