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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today


    Friday's the day when MLA's traditionally deal with constituency business so we've come to the end of our Stormont coverage for this week.

    We'll be back on Monday at midday for a full plenary session of the assembly. Do join us then.

    In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy your weekend.

  2. 'The language of rights should be where law becomes poetry'

    Mike Nesbitt of the UUP apologises as a hospital consultant is due to call him in a few minutes.

    The chair then turns to John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin.

    He asks about the trans-generational impact of the Troubles on children and asks “in broad terms how do you think we should address that in a bill of rights?”.

    Baroness Kennedy says it’s worth looking at “how do we safeguard the future of these children”.

    “I do think that you have to give them a bill of rights”, she says.

    “I think that the generation that is coming through in NI will be no different from anywhere else, and it’s the young that we should be having the bill of rights for.”

    “The language of rights should be where law becomes poetry,” says Baroness Kennedy.

    “We have to find ways that speak to people,” she says, adding “human rights gives us that”.

    Baroness Kennedy

    Emma Sheerin thanks Baroness Kennedy for joining the meeting.

    “We don’t have quorum for any committee business”, says the chair, as Mike Nesbitt had to leave the meeting early.

    As such, the committee meeting is closed.

  3. 'Not going to pretend I can draft this for you'

    Ema Sheerin picks up the questioning.

    She wants to know more about Baroness Kennedy's view that Brexit would have an impact on citizenship rights and freedom of movement.

    Referring to the Emma DeSouza case, Ms Sheerin says it appears that the British government regards people in NI as British "whether we like it or not".

    Emma Sheerin

    How would Baroness Kennedy address this through a bill of rights

    I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I can draft this for you. You've got great lawyers in Northern Ireland who can sit down and battle this through" she says.

    Baroness Kennedy says that if you try to base a bill of rights on anything other than equality "you end up with a hierarchy of rights, and I don't believe that a hierarchy of rights is what rights is about".

  4. 'It’s a particularly tricky thing in NI'

    Baroness Kennedy

    Baroness Kennedy turns to specific points that she believes should be included within a Bill of Rights.

    One of these includes the “right of individuals born in NI to identify themselves as Irish or British as they choose, or both”.

    “It’s essential that this equality is contained in the bill of rights,” she adds.

    Turning to the taking of oaths, Baroness Kennedy says, “you do have to have sensitivity to these sort of things” adding “it’s a particularly tricky thing in NI”.

    On the issue of children’s rights, she says these should be included in any potential Bill of Rights.

    “You could, actually, lead the way on some of this stuff on children,” she adds.

    She talks about the “continuing legacy of the conflict” which she says still impacts on children’s lives.

    “I would be looking at additional protections for your children,” she adds.

    Baroness Kennedy concludes by saying “really, really try to have everyone see that this is for everybody, and that everybody stands to benefit”.

  5. 'Law can be a weapon, but a bill of rights tries to shift that power'

    Committee Chair Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin thanks Albie Sachs for his contribution before welcoming the second witness of the day.

    Baroness Helena Kennedy QC joins the meeting by video link for her briefing on the Belfast Agreement and a bill of rights

    She begins by praising Mr Sachs and encourages members to take on board all that he had to say.

    As a young lawyer, Baroness Kennedy says she worked in America and “saw rights becoming a tool in the hands of ordinary people”.

    In the late 80’s, she says she was one of those in UK to “argue for constitutional change” in the form of “devolution, that there should be a bill of rights and a written constitution, we were calling for a Freedom of Information Act so people could be better informed,” as well as, “that we should be reforming the house of Lords and the committee structures within Westminster”.

    “There were this whole range of things that we were advocating,” she explains.

    “I ended up in the House of Lords as I am a lawyer, I wouldn’t describe myself as being tribally political,” she says, adding “I believe in the institutions of law”.

    “Law can be a real weapon, but in a bill of rights you're trying to shift that power and put that into the hands of citizens,” she adds.

    Baroness Kennedy says “the Belfast Agreement / Good Friday Agreement was the product of really hard negotiation and discussions and for me it was one of the great moments”.

    “I had done trials in London and other parts of the UK relating to the Troubles and I saw the toll it took on many people’s lives,” she explains.

    Baroness Kennedy

    “When you’re trying to, if you like, renegotiate relationships” she says “it can be very disturbing for what people come to know”.

    “I feel very strongly that actually the Protestant community in NI, those who feel very strongly that they are British, this is a protection for people who feel that too, particularly as we’re leaving the EU,” says Baroness Kennedy.

    “If you talk to people here, what they are about is that they have access to good healthcare, that their children are going to be well educated,” she says.

    “I can’t pretend to you that the conversation about human rights has been very good in England and Wales,” she adds.

    A good bill of rights “goes beyond the standard, but the particular circumstances of a nation” says Baroness Kennedy.

  6. 'Majorities turn into minorities, and the world evolves'

    John O'Dowd

    John O'Dowd of Sinn Féin is interested in Mr Sachs comment that "we need a bill of rights against ourselves".

    He says he thinks it's fundamental because "those in power fall from power, majorities turn into minorities and the world evolves constantly".

    "I'm not a republican and I'm not a loyalist, I'm Albie from outside," says Mr Sachs, and that if he was speaking to loyalists he would say "a bill of rights, it's going to protect you".

  7. 'I wouldn’t say it’s important, I’d say it’s fundamental'

    Mike Nesbitt

    Mike Nesbitt of the UUP joins the meeting by video link.

    He says he met Mr Sachs in Belfast a number of years ago.

    Turning to his question, he wants to know how important it is that a Bill of Rights has a “preamble” that “sets out your vision for all the people of the country”.

    Mr Sachs replies “I wouldn’t say it’s important, I’d say it’s fundamental”.

    “It’s got to be the right language and it mustn’t be legal language,” he adds.

    “It’s not easy,” he says, adding it can’t be too flowery but equally cannot look “like an insurance document”.

  8. 'It’s framing the enquiry a little bit differently'

    After a short break, the committee returns and Michelle McIlveen of the DUP asks a question.

    She refers to research collected about members of the Protestant/ Unionist community, and says they are not opposed to human rights, but have issues around “the way in which rights are perceived to have been implemented in practice”.

    She asks Mr Sachs for his advice on this matter.

    Mr Sachs says the conversations should move towards “what do you want, what are your concerns, what are things that are important to you?” and therefore “rights will not be seen as a weapon”.

    “It’s framing the enquiry a little bit differently,” he adds.

    Michelle McIlveen

    Ms McIlveen asks about any tensions between individual rights and those of groups and communities.

    Mr Sachs says there is a concept in South Africa called “ubuntu” that he explains is “very strong in African culture, which adds I am a person because you are a person”.

    It helps to “reconcile the personal rights” with “collective rights, those in the community” and instead of being “hostile they are seen as mutually supportive”.

    “What we didn’t like about group rights, was not that they were collective in nature,” says Mr Sachs, but explains “it’s seen as getting the correct balance between the individual, autonomy on the one hand, and the fact that you develop your autonomy in a collective setting”.

    “Dignity is the connector,” he says.

  9. 'You start with the human heart'

    As committee chair, Emma Sheerin has the first question.

    She says Mr Sachs clearly sees a bill of rights as having had an important role in bringing peace to South Africa.

    Ms Sheerin explains that a bill of rights was envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement but has not been delivered, adding that there are some "who don't feel that it has merit!".

    She asks for Mr Sachs advice.

    "Go to people and say: 'What do you want? What are you scared of?' and then, 'How can we find a common language/'," he advises, emphasising the importance of getting the feeling that people are involved.

    Wide shot of the committee

    "In our case it was often quite hard for black people to acknowledge the fears of whites who had been oppressors, who'd behaved often in a terrible way," he says.

    Mr Sachs explains that those favouring a bill of rights "would say, you know, the whites are also oppressed by their history and their past".

    "You start with the human heart, the human soul, the human aspirations and fears," he adds.

    Mr Sachs says he met a group of ex-loyalist and republican prisoners 15 years ago and he couldn't tell them apart, they were all "tough, working-class, Irish men".

    Regarding the former Maze/Long Kesh prison site, he is disappointed that it could not have found a different type of use.

    "Long Kesh as a site of pain and resistance" where loyalists and republicans were locked up, he says, and could have been "a very wonderful tourist site and site of reconciliation".

    Asked by Emma Sheerin about cultural and linguistic rights, Mr Sachs refers to the concept of "united in our diversity" in the new South Africa.

    He says unity had to come first as "diversity was apartheid, was separateness".

    "It's a unity across differences," Mr Sachs explains, adding that there are 11 official languages.

  10. 'It’s not just protections, it’s saying: who are we as a nation?'

    Albie Sachs

    Mr Sachs then turns to the South African Bill of Rights, and outlines a number of the rights enshrined there individually.

    “It’s not just protections, it’s saying ‘who are we as a nation? who are we as a people? who matters? Who counts?’,” he says.

    “That’s where the preamble matters,” adds Mr Sachs.

    He then reads the preamble contained in the South African Bill of Rights.

    “We had a debate about God and placing God in the text, and I who am very secular,” he says “was the one we suggested we include ‘God bless Africa’”.

    Mr Sachs turns to “children's rights” contained within the Bill of Rights, something that he says “people fought very hard for”.

    “The second largest provision in our Bill of Rights deals with land,” he adds, which he says “was very specific to South Africa”.

  11. 'Is it permissible for a freedom fighter to cry?'

    Albie Sachs, former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, begins by telling the committee: “I’ve done a little bit of homework on you, I don’t know who is on which side and that’s an advantage.”

    He outlines his personal experience of speaking to two separate universities about a Bill of Rights in South Africa.

    He says, “when I spoke to the black students, a Bill of Rights to them meant freedom, opportunity, changing society, a future hope”.

    “The next day I spoke to the university of Cape Town” which he explains had an “overwhelmingly white” student population.

    He says their response to a Bill of Rights was that “democracy is coming to South Africa, we’re going to have changes, but we’re not going to be driven into the sea”.

    “It was a very good discipline for me,” he says, adding “I couldn’t have two versions of the Bill of Rights”.

    Albie Sachs

    Mr Sachs says he “had sat as a commissioner on an unofficial commissioned inquiry into the shooting by British troops in the Bogside, before the Bloody Sunday event”.

    He was “invited to sit on the inquiry, and sadly my South African experience was helpful” he says,. and refers to “many shootings into crowds in South Africa”.

    In 1988, Mr Sachs says the ANC (African National Congress) constitutional committee were having an In-House Seminar on constitutional guidelines for a future South Africa at which he was tasked with outlining why there was a need for a Bill of Rights.

    He outlined the three reasons why there was belief in a need for a Bill of Rights, the last of which was “we need a bill of rights against ourselves”.

    He says there were some in the room who agreed with him, to prevent any future outbreak of authoritarian activity.

    Three weeks later, the academic explains that he was blown up after a bomb was planted in his car.

    He says he felt “drunk” at having survived the blast when he woke up in hospital and believed that “as I got better my country would get better”.

    Once recovered, he “set up a constitutional study centre in London” and recalls how one day he received a knock on the door and heard a “very British voice”.

    He says the voice said they had just come back from the “Long Kesh prison in NI and I’ve been in touch with the editorial policy group of the Sinn Féin publication and they have read your book”.

    He says they wanted to ask whether it was “permissible for a freedom fighter to cry”.

    “I was really moved by that,” says Mr Sachs.

    He adds it was decided by the prisoners in a three-to-two vote that it “was permissible for a freedom fighter to cry”.

    He says the three who voted in favour were those “who moved towards negotiations” to find “settlement”.

    Mr Sachs tells the committee that they have an “opportunity now to embrace a concept of a Bill of Rights that goes beyond simply clause 1, 2, 3 or 4”.

    He adds, there should be one which enables people to “feel comfortable in the country they are in”.

    He adds some "unsolicited advice" that “a pre-amble would be as important as a fix” but recognises that “pre-ambles are not things the British legal system is very comfortable with”.

    “It gets beyond the strict letter of the law, it simply introduces the law,” he adds.

  12. Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights

    Emma Sheerin

    Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin chairs the Ad Hoc Committee.

    She calls the meeting to order

    The first item of business is a briefing from Albie Sachs, former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

    He's joining the meeting by video link from Cape Town.

  13. This afternoon's agenda

    We're back for the afternoon, and we're joining the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights.

    Here's how the agenda looks.

  14. Back after lunch


    Colm Gildernew wraps the meeting.

    It's been rather shorter than expected, but we'll be back at 14:00 for an afternoon meeting of the Ad-hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights.

    The witnesses will include Baroness Helena Kennedy and former South African judge Albie Sachs.

    Enjoy your lunch and do join us then.

  15. Covid-19 regulations on travel

    CMO and Minister

    Colm Gildernew thanks the minister and the CMO for their attendance at the committee.

    He wishes them all the best as they leave the senate chamber.

    The members discuss some general points before turning to Statutory Regulations relating to further Covid-19 travel restrictions.

    The committee members agree to confirm their support for the regulations, and also agree to write to the department to air concerns about receiving information in a timely manner.

  16. 'Living embodiment of the Covid app working'

    Colin McGrath

    The SDLP's Colin McGrath says he is "the living embodiment of the Covid app actually working".

    He says he "got the alert on Monday during the Executive Office statement and then immediately left the building and came home".

    Mr McGrath said he had a number of questions but when he rang the helplines "they rang out".

    He says a flowchart with Covid information has been supplied to businesses, and he asks if something similar "simple graphic" is available for the public.

    "No, I don't think there is, but there will be shortly," says Robin Swann.

  17. 'We are storing up a mental health pandemic'

    Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw asks about “companionship in maternity services”.

    She says “we are storing up a mental health pandemic because of the trauma that people are enduring because they are not able to see their loved ones” during these difficult times.

    “This virus obviously is going to be with us for some time, what are you doing around home births” etc, asks the member.

    Robin Swann responds: “This virus is inhumane.”

    “The guidance we have out into hospital visiting is not something my department took easy,” he adds.

    Paula Bradshaw

    He says “this isn’t for ease that we brought in these recommendations on hospital visiting,” but adds “we have already seen in the past number of weeks outbreaks in hospital settings”.

    “It's not something we want to see in an antenatal ward, or a maternity ward,” he adds.

    “We do know of the effects” the restrictions have, says the minister, but emphasises it’s about providing safety for everyone.

  18. 'Those are detailed questions'

    Órlaíthi Flynn

    Órlaíthi Flynn of Sinn Féin asks about “legal advice” about the Internal Market Bill and any “known impact” on medical supplies.

    She then asks about “data sharing between north and south”.

    Mr Swann jokingly responds: “Those are detailed questions."

    Turning to the Internal Market Bill, the minister says “I have a letter to FM and DFM in regards to where we are as an executive on this as it’s not solely a Department of Health issue,” he says.

    The minister then says the north-south ministerial group meets tomorrow in a health format and says he expects an update on the data-sharing issue.

  19. 'PPE challenges are well-documented'

    The UUP's Alan Chambers refers to a briefing the committee had from an academic in Hong Kong who told them about the success they had because of "the lessons they had learned from the previous devastating SARS outbreak".

    Mr Chambers says there were 1,400 isolation rooms in Hong Kong hospitals, plentiful supplies of PPE and "intense ongoing infection control training".

    He wants to know what effect the "inadequate stocks" of PPE and lack of ventilators had in the earlier part of this year.

    Alan Chambers

    "We never got to a point where we were looking for a ventilator, we had enough but we're still buying more to make sure they're there," replies Mr Swann.

    And the minister says the challenges regarding PPE are "well-documented".

    The minister says they now have enough supply for 12 weeks and are maintaining it.

  20. 'We now have a Covid service but we don’t have a health service'

    Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin is up next. He says it’s clear “from the south’s statistics that have come that it’s the deprived areas that are most affected”.

    He asks “what measures are you putting in place to ensure areas that are disproportionately affected are going to get the greatest support”.

    Mr Swann responds, “Pat we’re seeing the same evidence here in NI as well”.

    He outlines that there is a need for joined-up working with a number of different bodies.

    “Working through and with the Department of Education, making sure any health messaging is also being utilised and that children are taking it home to their parents to make sure we get this message through,” he adds.

    Pat Sheehan

    Pat Sheehan says many people are saying “we now have a Covid service but we don’t have a health service unless you have some sort of immediate life threatening condition”. He wants to know “when can we expect for normal service to be resumed?”

    Mr Swann says “I wouldn't have an answer to when normal service resumes, because to do that we would have to say Covid has gone away”.

    “We’re working with a tired workforce,” says the minister, but emphasises that they want to provide as many services as they can.

    The CMO says “what we must do is provide a service that is safe for those who need access to it”.