36th Annual Nash Memorial Lecture

Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation: Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland

Presented on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement is widely recognised as a huge political achievement in bringing to an end the thirty year conflict in Northern Ireland. However, unlike other such settlements, the Agreement did not include provisions for an overarching mechanism for dealing with the past such as a truth and reconciliation commission. The result has been a 'piecemeal approach to the past' and the process of transition continuously being undermined by the conflicting interpretations of that past. Following lengthy political negotiations over several years, legislation may be introduced in London, Dublin and Belfast to finally deal with the past.

Using the Northern Ireland experience as a case-study, the lecture focuses on some of the most formidable challenges faced by societies emerging from conflict. Themes addressed include the role of truth recovery; the closely linked theme of amnesties and immunities in return for such truth recovery; the potential and limitations of prosecuting people for past-related offences; the role of ex-combatants and ex-prisoners; the experience of victimhood and the particular difficulties associated with hierarchies of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' victims; and finally the meaning and potential for real reconciliation and the role of apology and acknowledgement in such contexts.

Dr. Kieran McEvoy has a long history of involvement in human rights and conflict transformation activism.  A professor of law and transitional justice at Queen’s University in Belfast, Dr. McEvoy’s areas of research include transitional justice, restorative justice, truth recovery, amnesties, conflict resolution, ex-combatants, victims, and human rights. His research on transitional justice has spanned various regions across the globe, including Chile, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Columbia, Uganda, Spain and Italy, as well as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He is the author of numerous journal articles, and writer or editor of six books.