Unionists as ‘Court Sceptics’: Exploring Elite-Level Unionist Discourses about a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights

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Abstract

One of the most significant characteristics of the peace process in Northern Ireland has been the profound importance attached by a range of academic, political and non-governmental actors to the concept of human rights. However, unionists, more so than other elite-level political actors in Northern Ireland, have expressed scepticism about proposals from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) for a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights. This article explores how unionists relied on a ‘court sceptic’ narrative to argue against the Bill of Rights proposals. It argues that at one level unionist reliance on ‘court sceptic’ arguments can be conceived of as instrumental in the sense that it was a mere tactical response to, as unionists argue, the inflation by the NIHRC of their mandate contained in the Good Friday Agreement to devise a Bill of Rights. However, at another level unionists reliance on ‘court sceptic’ arguments can also be traced to their constitutional experience within the British polity.

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