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CoSO welcome handover of Bill of Rights Forum recommendations

31 March 2008

The Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO) today welcomed the handover of the final Recommendations of the Bill of Rights Forum to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Mairead McCafferty and James Knox, Co-Chairs of CoSO commented that “we believe this is a significant step forward in the protection of LGBT People's Rights in Northern Ireland and ultimately has the potential to have a profound effect on the Rights of LGBT People here and further afield, although we are still at the beginning of the process”.

Continuing, they stated that “this is possibly one of the first opportunities anywhere in the world where LGBT people have had an opportunity to use the ‘Yogyakarta Principles’* to ‘inform’ the drafting of a Bill of Rights”. As such N. Ireland should be proud of acknowledging the need to protect, promote and fulfil the Rights of, not only LGBT people but potentially all our marginalised and/or disadvantaged Communities.

To raise awareness of the development of the Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, CoSO hosted a series of successful events across Northern Ireland to engage local LGBT Communities and Individuals in the process of drafting recommendations for a Bill of Rights for N. Ireland.

The work of the Forum is now complete and the Report / Recommendations will go forward to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission as part of their statutory duty to progress a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

* Yogyakarta Principles – so named as this is where they were drafted in Indonesia, by leading Human Rights Experts from across the World – signatories to the Principles include Mary Robinson and Michael O’Flaherty – Ireland and Stephen Whittle and Judith Mesquita – UK and Robert Wintemute – UK and Canada.

Further notes

1. CoSO was established to promote equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people in Northern Ireland, to promote their human rights and to tackle the discrimination and inequality experienced by LGBT people here.

2. In many countries a Bill of Rights is the "supreme law" which ensures that local Parliaments cannot pass laws that infringe people's rights under it. Some countries also "entrench" a Bill of Rights which means that the Bill is established firmly in the law of the land. This doesn't mean that a Bill of Rights can never be changed once enacted but that it is more difficult to change than ordinary law. For example, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission could advise the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that a special majority or a referendum should be required if changes are to be made to the Bill of Rights once it is enacted.

The Process

3. A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was promised to the people of Northern Ireland by the “Belfast” / “Good Friday” Agreement, 1998. Following this agreement, the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 established the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and gave it specific duties in relation to a Bill of Rights. The Commission is directed by section 69(7) to "advise" the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on what should be in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

4. The Bill is to "reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience" and including rights supplementary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Yogyakarta Principles

5. In 2006, in response to well-documented patterns of abuse, a distinguished group of international human rights experts met in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to outline a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. The result was the Yogyakarta Principles: a universal guide to human rights which affirm binding international legal standards with which all States must comply. They promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfil that precious birthright.


Paisley's job means funding gay groups
4th May 2007

Ian Paisley's Stormont department will be distributing £180,000 over the next year to gay and bisexual groups, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today. The DUP leader, who once led a "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign, is to take the top post next week at the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) - the Department responsible for equality issues in Northern Ireland.

As part of its equality work, OFMDFM has earmarked grant-aid to support lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This funding package was launched by Secretary of State Peter Hain last year and involves the department working closely with the Coalition on Sexual Orientation, which represents a number of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups.

A spokesman for OFMDFM said it will be providing £180,000 during the current financial year, 2007-08. Money provided under the initiative in 2006-07 totalled £50,000.

The departmental spokesman added: "The funding is to enable the Coalition on Sexual Orientation to build the capacity and infrastructure of the sector to promote equality, improve community relations and the social inclusion of lesbian/gay/bisexual people."

OFMDFM is also finalising a sexual orientation strategy and action plan, which is due to be published this summer.

The Stormont department will be headed from next Tuesday by First Minister the Rev Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Mr Paisley founded the "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign in the late 1970s in an unsuccessful bid to prevent the decriminalisation of gay sex acts in Northern Ireland. He is also the Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, which preaches that homosexuality is evil.

Incoming DUP Culture Minister Edwin Poots faced controversy this week over grant-aid to the annual Belfast Gay Pride festival.

Two Free Presbyterian Church ministers spoke out over this funding.

Mr Poots, who has strongly opposed recent gay rights legislation, signalled that he would not intervene on the matter and would not have a direct input on such grant issues. He also stated that he will be required to comply with equality legislation, adding: "There is little point making decisions that will end up being overturned in a court of law."
© Belfast Telegraph



DUP minister faces Gay Pride grant row
2nd May 2007

An incoming DUP minister was today facing a gay grant controversy over spending within his new Government department.

Edwin Poots has been challenged by a Free Presbyterian minister on the likelihood of money from the Department of Culture going to Gay Pride celebrations in Northern Ireland.

Mr Poots has told the Belfast Telegraph that he does not envisage intervening on the matter and will be obliged to comply with equality legislation.

The DUP MLA is a Free Presbyterian member himself and has been to the fore in opposition to recent gay rights legislation in Northern Ireland.

As a leading Lisburn councillor, he supported a failed attempt to prevent the wedding room in the city's civic centre being used for same sex civil partnership ceremonies.

Mr Poots will next week take charge of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which bankrolls the Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC), a Government sponsorship and promotional body.

NIEC awarded £3,000 to Gay Pride celebrations in 2006 and is currently considering a grant application for this year's festival.

Mr Poots said that his personal opinions were very clear. But he added: " Sometimes your personal views diverge from what you can do. There are procedures to go through and equality legislation and I will be observing all of those procedures."

Mr Poots said it was NIEC's responsibility to allocate its money.

"There are laws in this country and they have to be observed, whether we like them or not," he said.

"I don't think it would be wise for a minister to go in and not observe those laws."

A very different approach to the issue of Gay Pride funding was taken by outspoken Free Presbyterian Minister, the Rev Ivan Foster.

The clergyman, who is bitterly opposed to the Stormont deal on restoring devolution, said: "If it turns out that financial support for a celebration of sodomy is sanctioned by a member or office bearer of the Free Presbyterian Church, then it will underscore the utter futility of the power sharing agreement that has been put together by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"Far from the DUP elevating the morals of society, it seems that the DUP is going to come down to the level of morality that society demands."

A DCAL spokesperson today said: "NIEC paid grant of £3,000 to Gay Pride under the Community Festivals Fund last year. There is an application in for this year also and this is being considered. All applications are treated equally."

The annual Gay Pride parade in Belfast has been picketed by Christian objectors in recent years. The protesters have also attempted, without success, to persuade the Parades Commission to ban the event.
© Belfast Telegraph



Reporting Hate Crimes
7th February 2006

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have put together a leaflet with information on reporting homophobic incidents and hate crimes.

Any incident, reported to the police which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person will be recorded and thoroughly investigated.

In addition a Police Service Minority Liaison Officer will be advised. This officer will contact the victim to provide advice and support, unless they have been asked not to.

The police recognise that some people, for whatever reason, may be reluctant to report this type of incident to them. Reporting incidents can enable the police to prevent further incidents taking place and also ensure that those responsible are held accountable to the law.

The police are commited to dealing with your complaint in a professional, confidential and sensitive manner.

In an emergency call "999" or alternatively call your local police station and ask to speak to the Minority Liaison Officer.


Related Links:

Stonewall UK
UK News
Police Service of N.I.

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