Northern Ireland

Human Rights Act: Irish government 'will protect 1998 Agreement'

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Image caption The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998

The Irish Government is determined to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement in the face of a UK plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, a minister has said.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the protection of human rights was a key principle underpinning the 1998 peace agreement.

The new Conservative government intends to repeal the act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams called it a "scandalous attack" on the peace deal.

In a statement, Mr Flanagan said: "As a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government takes very seriously our responsibility to safeguard the Agreement," he said.

"The fundamental role of human rights in guaranteeing peace and stability in Northern Ireland must be fully respected."

He told the Senate (Upper House) in Dublin he would work closely with the British government "to ensure that the protection of human rights remains at the heart of civic life and politics and ongoing societal change in Northern Ireland",

Mr Flanagan plans to meet Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers next week.

The 1998 Human Rights Act had the effect of extending the protections listed in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic UK law.

'Enormous implications'

Critics of the Conservative plan to scrap the act say it would breach the terms of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement, under which the UK government committed itself to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Ireland law.

Meanwhile, a Fianna Fail TD said the taoiseach (Irish prime minister) should step in to safeguard the Agreement in the wake of the plans.

Brendan Smith said the Belfast Agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed by all the people of Ireland and Enda Kenny should act to protect it.

On Wednesday, Gerry Adams said repealing the act would be a "grievous breach of the Good Friday Agreement" and called on the Irish prime minister to raise the matter with David Cameron.

The Sinn Féin leader said a repeal would have "enormous" implications for the administration of government, justice, policing, and equality in Northern Ireland.

However, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party a "has long been critical of the Human Rights Act and the way in which it has been interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights".

"The Human Rights Act has been abused by criminals and terrorists who have used spurious challenges to avoid deportation," he added.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has defended the plan and said the proposed British Bill of Rights would transfer power to UK courts but would "continue to protect fundamental rights enshrined in the European Convention".

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