The Good Friday Agreement 1998 conferred an obligation on both the British and Irish Governments to establish a Human Rights Commission in each jurisdiction, This took a couple of years to implement.
Although the UK Human Rights Act was passed in 1998 it did not come into effect until 2nd October 2000 and the ECHR was incorporated into Irish law on 1st January 2004 (ref European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003).
It is interesting to note that whilst Ireland was one of the first states to sign the ECHR in 1953 it was the last state to (partially) incorporate the provisions of the ECHR into domestic law.
The Good Friday Agreement also made provision for the establishment of a Joint Committee comprising members of the NI HR Commission and the HR Commission of the Republic of Ireland. This Committee meets alternately in Dublin and Belfast to discuss issues such as migration and racism.
The first Irish HR Commission served from July 2001 to June 2006. The Irish HR Commission was established by the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 (as amended by the 2001 Act). It has the following main roles:
1) Keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in Ireland
2) Consulting with relevant national and international bodies
3) Making recommendations to Government
4) Promoting understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights
5) Offering expertise to the Irish courts
6) Conducting enquries into possible abuses in Ireland
7) Taking legal proceedings
8) Providing legal assistance to people taking legal proceedings
The HR Commission is made up of 15 people (at least 7 must be male and 7 female). The current Commission was appointed on 31st August 2006.
The HR Commission is only able to help people take proceedings in a limited range of circumstances. For example the complainant will need to prove that he has made reasonable efforts to get legal assistance elsewhere ie. Criminal or Civil Legal Aid. The Commission is not an adjudicator body – it cannot overturn court or tribunal decisions or award compensation. It’s main remit is to conduct and enquiry to find out whether existing law or practice meets human rights standards.
I read an interesting article recently by Gara LaMarche (Atlantic Philanthropies) entitled “Ireland’s Economic Problems – No Excuse to Send Human Rights into Recession”. The budget for the Irish HR Commission was cut by 24% in 1999. She says that the Irish HR Commission is a small and traditionally underfunded organisation, nonetheless praised consistently as a strong and independent voice for human rights by the United Nations, the Council of Europe and others but that recent budget cuts will seriously undermine its work.