Martina Anderson MEP hosts ‘Unite for Rights’ disability conference

November 7, 2016

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson hosted a major disability rights conference on Thursday last at the Carrickdale Hotel.

The ‘Unite for Rights’ conference  brought together a number of disability rights experts and legal experts from across Europe to discuss a range of issues including the impact of a potential Brexit on the rights of people with disabilities.  Among those taking part in the discussions were Les Allamby from the Human Rights Commission, Monica Wilson from Disability Action and Ann Sofia, Human Rights Officer with the European Disability Forum.

Addressing those present, the Sinn Fein MEP – who is vice president of the European Parliament’s disability intergroup – said her party believes that the interests of the people of Ireland “are best served as members of the European Union” and had campaigned vigorously for the north to remain in the EU, with particular focus on the island of Ireland as a whole.

Outlining the financial implications of Brexit, the MEP said it was clear that the north would be economically devastated but added that the social consequences “are even more worrying” with EU rights and entitlements to end discrimination against all sectors of society, including people with disabilities, being directly impacted.

“Brexit will mean that the British government is not legally bound by any of these directives. There will be no onus on them to ensure protection against discrimination as laid out by the European Union,” she said.

“We already know from experience that the Tory government has no regard for those in need of support, those who are discriminated against and the most vulnerable in society.

“We have already seen the impact of their cuts to benefits where people with disabilities will be affected disproportionally.”

Ms Anderson maintained that Brexit will hugely impact on the rights of all workers and people with disabilities “will lose out” as many of the protections that enable them to work without being discriminated against by employers are protections that are underpinned by EU law.

In addition, Ms Anderson maintained that the loss of the European Social Fund would have a negative effect on people with a disability with the loss of “necessary services and expertise.”  She also claimed that cross border collaboration seen in health projects such as the North West Health Innovation Corridor would be severely hindered.  With regard to disabled citizens working, studying and living abroad, she said Brexit could put an end to their entitlement to access social and health care in the host country if the British government does not accept the continuation of free movement of people.

The North will also no longer be central to policy developments initiated by the Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED), created under the EU to support policy development and equal opportunities in the disability field, warned the Sinn Fein MEP who added that the future of the Human Rights Act is at risk “as it becomes clear that the British government no longer has to comply with the human rights obligations of the EU Treaties.”

“The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights would not apply to Britain post Brexit and the EU Court of Justice would no longer have any jurisdiction over Britain,” she stated.

“It has taken decades to build rights and protections, to put people at the centre of policies, whether at a European level or indeed here.

“Brexit will take us backwards. Brexit will enable the British government to tear it up, start again, and who will they seek to benefit?” asked Ms Anderson.

“All Irish voices in this debate must be shouting about securing designated special status for the North.

“That threatens no-one’s constitutional preference and this State, as a continuing member of the EU, has the right and in our view the obligation, to bring forward such a proposal.

“The people of the north voted to remain and we need to raise our voices and demand that our vote is fully recognized and respected.

“We need to remain in the EU, get rid of the negative and build on the positive. We need to Unite for Rights!”