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New research from Ulster University is set to open debate and refocus attention on creating and implementing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is one of the outstanding issues from the Good Friday Belfast Agreement.

Ulster University’s new 18-month long research project, which received over £20,000 funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, asks ‘Where Next for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland?’

The results will form the development of a policy report containing a model Bill for consideration by key stakeholders such as the Northern Ireland Office, the Irish Government, local political parties and a range of human rights organisations. Once the draft model Bill has been completed, it will be presented and disseminated at a series of seminars in Belfast, Dublin and London.

Ulster University’s Dr Anne Smith will lead the project alongside Professor Colin Harvey from Queen’s University Belfast. Both are long-time contributors to the debate around a Bill of Rights and this project is a follow-on from previous work they have carried out.

Ulster University’s Dr Anne Smith said: “Human rights have been central to the Northern Ireland peace process and the institutions and legal protections it established. In 2008 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission set out its advice on a Bill of Rights and the following year the Northern Ireland Office responded to this advice by publishing its consultation document.

“Unfortunately since then there has been little further discussion on a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights between the political parties and governments.

“To safeguard against the weakening of human rights standards post Brexit and to reflect the current political mood of implementation rather than renegotiation, we believe that it is very important to revisit this issue now.

“The Bill would take the form of Westminster legislation in accordance with the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. This project therefore represents our attempt to give legislative expression to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s advice on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

Professor Colin Harvey, from the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The time is right to revisit and reflect on all the efforts to advance a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. It now seems plain that human rights will feature once again in the constitutional conversations about the future of this region, and the future of these islands.

“As in so many areas, we are fortunate not to be starting from a blank page. I am pleased to be working on this project with Dr Anne Smith as we seek to explore how the ambitions for a Bill of Rights might be realised in practice. A Bill of Rights that respects our particular circumstances is one way to ensure that human rights remain central to our peace process.”