Purvis: Unionists 'lacking honesty' over Bill of Rights
Wednesday, 4 November 2009 – Belfast Telegraph
There were angry clashes in the Assembly yesterday after a leading loyalist accused unionist parties of 'lacking honesty' in their opposition to a strong Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) leader Dawn Purvis warned the UUP and DUP they were failing Protestant communities by blocking efforts to enshrine a wide range of rights in law.
But she drew an angry reaction from Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea, whose party tabled an Assembly motion warning that proposals from the Human Rights Commission went beyond those envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
The Commission's plans for a Bill covering a range of rights are currently with the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward.
The UUP motion calling for Mr Woodward to ignore the blueprint failed to secure cross-community support in the Assembly today.
But a call by Ms Purvis for government to proceed with a public consultation on the Bill was supported by a majority of MLAs.
"The lack of honesty in the other unionist parties in this chamber is disheartening," said Ms Purvis.
"Are they afraid that if the Protestant working classes fully understood and recognised their own rights, they would then have expectations of a more equitable society?
"Are they afraid that they couldn't then deliver such a society? Or do they just not want to deliver such a society?"
He added: "The duplicity continues. Every week the parties in this chamber wax lyrical about how hard they are working on the issues they are seeing in their constituency offices.
"Problems with housing, access to medication and adequate care, mental health services, the post-primary transfer and the guarantee of a decent education.
"What exactly do they think these are? These are rights for which people are seeking protection."
But the UUP's Basil McCrea said the proposals for a Bill would be a 'paradise for jobsworths' who would delay the work of government.
"Ms Purvis is not the only person in this chamber on the unionist benches that cares about the people in the Protestant working classes," he said.
"How dare she say that she's the only person who can go and do that. We argue as a party for the social justice that is demanded by all of the people of Northern Ireland.
"And we will not be brow-beaten by people from whatever side of this House that wish to rewrite history."
Ms Purvis had raised the significance of poverty and inequality in creating the Troubles and warned that failing to deal with such issues risked fresh tensions.
But Mr McCrea said the Troubles were caused by those engaged in violence and not by social policy.
He said he was dismayed by the PUP leader's comments, and added: "I could use stronger language, but I do not not think it is appropriate in this chamber to accuse people that are elected representatives of being dishonest, of not taking into account what their electorate have to say.
"We are accused of duplicity, and we are accused of being confused. I have to say to the member, I am not confused, I am not acting in a duplicitous manner, I do not act with any lack of honesty.
"The central issue in front of us here is whether it is right to present to a public consultation when it is quite clear that at least two of the major parties in this chamber do not support the recommendations.
"To go further forward is a complete and utter waste of public money."
The DUP backed the Ulster Unionist concerns and warned against a Bill that would enshrine a wide range of rights and entitlements in law, with both parties arguing that a wide-ranging Bill risked undermining the role of the Assembly.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP supported the Progressive Unionist Party amendment proposing a public consultation on the Bill of Rights proposals, as did the Alliance Party.
It would appear that Ms. Purvis is “spot on” in her remarks with regard to a Bill of Rights for all people in the North of Ireland. It is very refreshing, indeed, to see that there are, at least, some Unionist politicians who recognize that poverty and inequality played a significant role in creating and sustaining the “Troubles”. I believe that the late Unionist David Ervine also shared that view.