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Irish MEPs write to Šefčovič over Windsor Framework

A cross-party group of Irish MEPs has written to the European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič urging the EU to ensure that the human rights and equalities elements of the Windsor Framework agreement are maintained.

The letter was prompted by a survey which revealed that 53% of people in Northern Ireland felt their rights had already been reduced as a result of Brexit, and a view that Northern Ireland might fall behind rights and equality provisions in the South.

The study was carried out by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), one of a number of bodies, including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which MEPs met last October.

The MEPs state that Article 2 of the Windsor Framework commits the EU and UK to keep pace with human rights and equality legislation, and that both the NIHRC and ECNI have a role in ensuring these commitments are kept.

“The Windsor Framework is not just about matters of trade: it is also about the protection of equality and human rights in Northern Ireland,” the MEPs wrote.

“We are concerned to hear of the risk that there could be a growing divergence of rights protections on the island of Ireland Post-Brexit, with NI potentially falling further behind Ireland.

“Survey research by IHREC found strong public support in Ireland for an equivalent level of equality and human rights protections in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and for more action to harmonise protections on the island of Ireland post-Brexit.”

European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič

The letter states that following the Windsor Framework Agreement in March 2023, the commission agreed to enhanced measures to deepen engagement with stakeholders in Northern Ireland.

“Given the implications of Brexit for the enjoyment of rights across the island of Ireland, it is critical that this engagement should include equality and human rights stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including the Commissions, to ensure their views are heard and taken into consideration,” the letter states.

The letter was signed by MEPs from the European People’s Party (EPP), including Fine Gael’s Maria Walsh, Colm Markey, Deirdre Clune and Francis Fitzgerald, as well as the Renew Group, including Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews and Billy Kelleher.

The Green MEPs Ciaran Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan, as well as Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus, also signed the letter.

The MEPs warned that continued engagement by the EU was “critical” if there were future EU proposals touching upon equality and human rights in Northern Ireland, “including for divergence of rights on the island of Ireland”.

These included developments on work life balance, the EU Accessibility Act, and pay transparency reporting, the MEPs say.

For that reason, timely, targeted and structured engagement with the relevant rights and equality bodies was essential, the letter states.

The MEPs urged the commission to ensure that any upcoming EU proposals that might have implications for equality and human rights were flagged well in advance.

“We also encourage the European Commission to work with the UK Government to ensure that there are timely updates and relevant information exchanges on developments in EU law, to aid the effective implementation of Windsor Framework Article 2,” the letter states.


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