The Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of April 1998, which ended three decades of open conflict in the British-administrated north-east of Ireland, actually consists of two documents. The first is the “Agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations“, a regional multilateral accord, and the second is the “Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland“, a related international treaty, which are jointly lodged with the United Nations in New York. Both documents make copious references to the European Union and in particular the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a protocol separate from but closely associated with EU membership. In particular the British government pledges to incorporate the ECHR into domestic UK law, with an expanded bill of rights for the Six Counties if necessary.
From the text of the multiparty accord:
Declaration of support
Section: Agreement reached in the Multi-Party negotiations
5. There will be safeguards to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions and that all sections of the community are protected, including:
(b) the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland supplementing it, which neither the Assembly nor public bodies can infringe, together with a Human Rights Commission;
(c) arrangements to provide that key decisions and legislation are proofed to ensure that they do not infringe the ECHR and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland;
17. The Council to consider the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework. Arrangements to be made to ensure that the views of the Council are taken into account and represented appropriately at relevant EU meetings.
United Kingdom legislation
2. The British Government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention, including power for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency.
4. The new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission… will be invited to consult and to advise 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, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR – to constitute a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
Comparable Steps by the Irish Government
9. The Irish Government will also take steps to further strengthen the protection of human rights in its jurisdiction. The Government will, taking account of the work of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and the Report of the Constitution Review Group, bring forward measures to strengthen and underpin the constitutional protection of human rights. These proposals will draw on the European Convention on Human Rights and other international legal instruments in the field of human rights and the question of the incorporation of the ECHR will be further examined in this context. The measures brought forward would ensure at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as will pertain in Northern Ireland.
From the text of the treaty between Ireland and Britain:
AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE GOVERNMENT OF IRELAND
The British and Irish Governments:
Wishing to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union;
Have agreed as follows:
The two Governments affirm their solemn commitment to support, and where appropriate implement, the provisions of the Multi-Party Agreement. In particular there shall be established in accordance with the provisions of the Multi-Party Agreement immediately on the entry into force of this Agreement, the following institutions:
(i) a North/South Ministerial Council;
(ii) the implementation bodies referred to in paragraph 9 (ii) of the section entitled “Strand Two” of the Multi-Party Agreement;
(iii) a British-Irish Council;
(iv) a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.
In witness thereof the undersigned, being duly authorised thereto by the respective
Governments, have signed this Agreement.
By withdrawing from the European Union through the so-called Brexit referendum, and now vowing to abandon the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the United Kingdom has torn up several key clauses in the Belfast Agreement, and is effectively repudiating the peace settlement of 1998. Without the accords, in their totality, as reached between the parties in the north-east of the country and between the Irish and British governments, the region may well revert to a state of political instability. Britain’s likely reneging of its national and international obligations in relation to the Six Counties is the undermining of a “Versailles Treaty” in a corner of 21st century Europe. This will require difficult but necessary choices for the leaders of Ireland and the European Union in the coming months. Stand up to Britain’s bad faith or capitulate to the diktats of a discredited administration in London and risk the end of nearly two decades of relative progress in the northern part of this island nation.
The formula for renewed conflict is clear. No membership of the European Union and European Convention on Human Rights in the UK-ruled Six Counties: no Good Friday Agreement, no peace process, no peace…