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Polling shows public want better rights protections following Covid-19 pandemic

New public polling commissioned in collaboration by Queen’s University, Ulster University, and the Human Rights Consortium has found significant cross-community support for the inclusion of a range of rights in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

General public

The polling provides evidence that societal factors such as Brexit, conversations concerning the future of Northern Ireland and the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic have increased support for a Bill of Rights with more than four in five (83%) feeling that following the Covid-19 pandemic, the right to an adequate standard of physical and mental health should be protected in law through a Bill of Rights.

Nearly four in five (78%) believe that it is important that there should be a mechanism in place to ensure that any rights contained in the Bill of Rights should be enforceable by law, and given the wider context and contributing factors of the current political climate, around a third feel that their experiences of Brexit (33%), the Covid-19 pandemic (34%) and conversations concerning a border poll and the future of Northern Ireland (36%) have increased their belief that their rights would be better protected through a specific Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

This research explores public attitudes towards what a Bill of Rights should contain and has found that a significant majority consider it important to include the following: the right to education (88%); the right to an adequate standard of mental and physical health (88%); the right to adequate accommodation (84%); the right to an adequate standard of living (84%); the right to food (86%); the right to work (83%); and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (87%).

This new evidence comes at the conclusion of a project with Dr Anne Smith, Ulster University, and Professor Colin Harvey, Queen’s University Belfast, funded by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, that has provided a draft model Bill of Rights as well as a range of research outputs. The universities have collaborated with the Human Rights Consortium to deliver this public opinion polling as the final part of the research project.

Professor Colin Harvey said: “The polling confirms what we have known for some considerable time. People across all communities want change, they would like a Bill of Rights to be delivered at long last. It is also clear that people want a full and inclusive range of enforceable rights, not simply words on a page. We hope that the outcomes from this collaborative research project will help to inform and shape a wider public conversation about the future promotion and protection of human rights here.”

Professor Rory O’Connell from Ulster University said: “I am delighted to see the results of this Joseph Rowntree-funded collaboration between my colleague Dr Anne Smith (Ulster) and Professor Colin Harvey (QUB), working with the Human Rights Consortium. As we start to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and seek to rebuild our society, this polling confirms widespread support for key rights necessary to this project: the rights to education, health, adequate standard of living, adequate housing, food, work, and a healthy environment.”

Kevin Hanratty, Director of the Human Rights Consortium said: "The results of this polling are yet further evidence of overwhelming public support across all sections of our society for an enhanced set of rights protections. Northern Ireland has come through a lot in recent years, and we still have much uncertainty. That is why the public are clearly demanding that ourfuture is based on the defence of fundamental rights. People want the added reassurance that when decisions are being made,that the protection of their rights are at the core of that decision making process. A Bill of Rights is key to that vision and can help protect everyone in our society.”

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