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    A desire to protect human rights and promote equality was at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement, in which the parties collectively affirmed their commitment to "the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community, in particular the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity."

    The Agreement paved the way for the creation of new Commissions dealing with Equality and Human Rights issues in Northern Ireland. These bodies were established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and came into being the following year.

    The Agreement also recommended the establishment of a statutory equality duty placed on the public sector requiring them to promote equality of opportunity and good community relations in all that they do. This was brought into effect by section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

    Finally, under the Agreement the British Government committed itself to incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) into UK law and to commissioning from the new Human Rights Commission advice on whether any additional rights, reflecting Northern Ireland's unique situation, were needed. Any such additional rights, taken with the ECHR rights, could form a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The Human Rights Act 1998 enshrined within UK law the rights set out in the ECHR and made provision for these rights to be exercised within the domestic courts. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked the Human Rights Commission to advise on the scope for a Bill of Rights and we await its response.

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