Category: Archive

Pressure on HRC chair to quit increases

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have already called on the chairman of the commission, Professor Brice Dickson, to go – adding to calls from five of his own commissioners.
Dickson, however, has rejected demands for his resignation and said he will continue in office despite the clamor from opponents who say he has compromised the commission by both his words and actions in past months.
After meeting Dickson this week in Belfast, Hevesi, who had also previously called for his resignation, said they had had “frank and cordial” talks, but his views had not changed.
Hevesi said Dickson had behaved in a way that, at best, could be called incompetent. He appeared in incapable of uniting the commission, he said, and should go.
At the center of the row is a letter Dickson sent, privately, to the former RUC chief constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in the wake of the commission’s decision to fund a legal action.
The action is one in which an un-named parent of a child at Holy Cross school in Ardoyne is challenging the way the RUC policed the loyalist blockade at the school two years ago.
Dickson’s letter told Flanagan that he disagreed with his own commission’s decision and that he believed the legal challenge had no merit. Unsurprisingly, the police have since used the letter against the Holy Cross parent.
The two most recent calls for Dickson’s resignation came from fellow commissioners Paddy Kelly and Frank McGuinness. Three other commissioners have resigned already saying they have lost confidence in him and the Commission’s work.
As the festering row re-ignited, Dickson was attending a United Nations workshop in Copenhagen. A spokeswoman said: “He is clear there is strong support from other members of the commission.”
Dickson has been under pressure since a British parliamentary report said his handling of the Holy Cross case raised questions about the commission’s independence.
Dickson has admitted blundering over the Holy Cross case and the commission later published an action plan pledging to remain totally independent of government.
It emerged this week, however, that the plan had been submitted to the Northern Ireland Office for comment prior to its publication, undermining the commission’s promise to remain independent.
Kelly and McGuinness have withdrawn from the day-to-day running of the commission, but have not followed the lead of the three others who have resigned from the body.
“The paragraphs in the action plan that deal with the Holy Cross case display a total lack of understanding of the fundamental problem,” Kelly, director of the Belfast Children’s Law Center, said.
“It fails to reassure me that commissioners involved appreciate what they did was inappropriate and fails to reassure me the same thing couldn’t happen again.”
McGuinness said: “The plan fails to address the issue of public confidence.”
Sinn Fein’s Chrissie McAuley said: “We believe Dickson’s continued position as chief commissioner is untenable and he should resign. If he refuses, we believe the British government should remove him from his post.”
The SDLP said that Dickson’s actions over Holy Cross compromised his independence. The commission’s action plan was meant to restore confidence. It now transpires that it was drafted to “make it watertight from the commission’s critics with the help of the Northern Ireland Office,” the party said in a statement.
“It is clear that the chief commissioner was out to save his own bacon and not to solve the problem. We asked if he had apologized to the Holy Cross parent and child for the mishandling of the case. The answer was no,” it said.
Party leader Mark Durkan said “It is unacceptable for the head of a Human Rights Commission, which is meant to be absolutely independent, to be negotiating its actions plans with the Northern Ireland Office.”
But Alliance Party justice spokesman Stephen Farry hit out at McGuinness and Kelly for “undermining the commission”. He said it “had bent over backwards to address misplaced concerns.”

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