Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights

S462 The Irish language, Ulster Scots, the Military Covenant and the definition of a victim of the conflict

CAJ Discussion Note, April 2017

There have been a number of recent media reports citing various proposals that have reportedly been subject to the current political negotiations. These include a reported proposal for extending the St Andrews Agreement mandated Irish Language Act to also cover Ulster Scots; and proposals for the implementation of the UK Military Covenant in Northern Ireland as well as proposals to change the definition of a victim. The purpose of this briefing note is to provide commentary from a human rights perspective on these issues. In summary:

  • Irish Language Act: in addition to the commitment in the (UK-Ireland) international agreement at St Andrews legislating to protect the Irish language engages the UK’s human rights treaty-based commitments at the UN and Council of Europe, who have made half a dozen calls for implementation;
  • Ulster Scots: international treaty bodies have consistently held that seeking artificial parity for Ulster Scots and Irish will damage the protection and development of both, to the detriment of speakers of both the Irish and Scots languages. Measures to promote Ulster Scots should be tailored to the needs of speakers and its preservation – not as a counterweight to Irish;
  • Military Covenant: as in our evidence to Westminster on housing and health care issues we would urge a rights-based approach removing any barriers particular to service personnel to ensure equality of opportunity in access to services. This is different to any proposals to afford preferential treatment in housing and health waiting lists; this would dismantle the founding principles of the NHS and NIHE that decisions be on the basis of objective need;
  • Definition of Victim: a definition of a victim of a conflict-related incident is currently provided for in the Victims and Survivors NI Order 2006. Proposals to change this to cover only ‘innocent victims’ may have a much greater scope than is often understood and have the effect of excluding almost all victims of the State (e.g. a child killed by a plastic bullet may no longer be considered a victim). The UN Special Rapporteur has recently highlighted a basis for reparations programmes that is not dependent on re-definition of victim;


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