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Ad hoc Committee for Bill of Rights meets for the first time

But what is the Ad hoc Committee, why was it set up, what will it do, and who's on it?
Read on to find out....

What is an Ad hoc Committee?

Ad hoc Committees are sometimes set up by the Assembly to look at specific time-bound issues and are allowed under Standing Orders, which are the rules that govern Assembly business. When these committees are set up, the Assembly sets the terms of reference for them, as well as who the members will be and how the committee will operate.

Currently, the Assembly has set up an Ad hoc Committee for a Bill of Rights.

Who decided to establish the Assembly Ad hoc Committee for Bill of Rights?

The New Decade, New Approach document, which was endorsed by political parties in January 2020, provided for the establishment of an Ad hoc Assembly committee to consider the creation of a Bill of Rights that is faithful to the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in that:

it contains rights supplementary to those contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, which are currently applicable and “that reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland”; as well as reflecting the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem.

The Ad-Hoc Committee will be assisted in its work by a Panel of five experts appointed jointly by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

The Panel should initially seek to advise the Ad-Hoc Committee on what constitutes our “particular circumstances” drawing upon, but not bound by, previous work on a Bill of Rights and should review and make recommendations on how the UK’s withdrawal from the EU may impact on our “particular circumstances”.

The terms of reference and timetable of the Committee will be agreed within 30 working days of the restoration of devolution. The establishment of cross-party and cross-community support will be critical to advancing a Bill of Rights.

How was the Assembly Ad hoc Committee for Bill of Rights established?
On 24 February 2020, the Assembly established the Ad hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights, with the following terms of reference:

That, as provided for in Standing Order 53(1), this Assembly appoints an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the creation of a Bill of Rights as set out in paragraph 28 of Part 2 of the New Decade, New Approach document; and to submit a report to the Assembly by 28 February 2022.

Who are the members of the Committee?
There are seven Members of the Assembly Ad hoc Committee for Bill of Rights:

  • Paula Bradshaw MLA
  • Mark H Durkan MLA
  • Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
  • Emma Sheerin MLA
  • Mike Nesbitt MLA
  • Christopher Stalford MLA
  • Michelle McIlveen MLA

Who are the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Committee?
The Chair of the Committee is Emma Sheerin MLA and the Deputy Chairperson is Mike Nesbitt MLA.  You can listen to the election of the Chair and Deputy Chair in this short audio clip:

What is the Committee quorum?
Quorum is the minimum number of Committee Members required to be in attendance during a Committee meeting in order for Committee to carry out official business. For the Ad Hoc Committee for Bill of Rights to make decisions or take evidence, a quorum of five (including the Chairperson) must be present.  

When will the Committee meet?
The Committee is due to meet every other week on a Thursday. The Committee’s first meeting took place on Thursday 05 March 2020.  

What did the Committee discuss during its first meeting?
At its first meeting, the Committee elected Emma Sheerin MLA as Chairperson and Mike Nesbitt MLA as Deputy Chairperson. The Members also discussed the background to the Bill of Rights, the Committee’s Terms of Reference, its forward work programme, and list of suggested witnesses.  

How do I keep up to date with the work of the Committee?
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