Human Rights and Equality in Northern Ireland Under the Protocol: A Practical Guide


Concerns about human rights and equality have been at the heart of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Much work over many years has gone into addressing these problems, resulting in the development of significant legal remedies.

The importance of these issues was recognised in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement concluded in 1998.

There has been considerable concern that the UK’s exit from the European Union may weaken these existing human rights and equality mechanisms in Northern Ireland.

Two important agreements were reached that address some of these concerns:

  • the Ireland-Northern Ireland Protocol (part of the Withdrawal Agreement)
  • the Trade and Co-operation Agreement

The purpose of this guide is to explain the provisions of the Protocol and TCA dealing with human rights and equality in Northern Ireland as simply and clearly as possible.

The guide was produced by SCI, the Human Rights Centre Queen’s University Belfast and the Donia Human Rights Centre University of Michigan.

An international audience attended an online event to launch the guide (Find the document here: Human Rights and Equality in Northern Ireland Under the Protocol - A Practical Guide..pdf)

The event heard from Professor Steven Ratner, Director the University of Michigan’s Donia Human Rights Center. It also heard from Scarlett Aylsworth who prepared the report during a fellowship with SCI sponsored by the University of Michigan.

Professor Christopher McCrudden of the Human Rights Centre in the School of Law at Queen's University Belfast, who advised on the creation of the guide, explained its contents to the audience.

The mechanisms created by the protocol have given the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) a key role in ensuring there is no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity.

Chief Commissioner at the NIHRC Alyson Kilpatrick and Chief Commissioner at the Equality Commission Geraldine McGahey spoke at the launch event.

Alyson Kilpatrick said the guide would be a valuable resource to the public and to professionals.

She said: “The commitment to the protection of rights and equality was central to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and that agreement recognised that the strong protection of human rights and equality was essential to enduring peace, democracy and the rule of law which in turn were essential to the health and wellbeing of the economy and society. So this is fundamental stuff. No trade deal in our view can compensate for the infringement of fundamental rights, in fact it will fall if fundamental rights are infringed.”

Chief Commissioner at the Equality Commission Geraldine McGahey congratulated all those involved in the creation of the guide.

She said the rights protections contained in the protocol deserved closer consideration.

“It has not got a lot of media coverage. It is negative aspects and concerns about the protocol that we hear most about, rather than this particular important aspect – the protocol article 2 and how it can benefit everyone’s rights here in Northern Ireland.”

SCI Director Martin O’Brien said: “To secure your rights you first need to know what they are and then how to vindicate them. We hope that this guide will be widely used and serve as a useful resource for anyone interested in protecting and advancing rights in Northern Ireland.”