Justice in Belfast

Restorative justice in Northern Ireland is an inspiring and politicized layering of community and government influences. As Harry Mika describes in the following short clip by HeartSpeaks Productions, “at the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, it was well understood that these levels of community violence – this role that paramilitaries played in local ‘rough’ justice – could be the undoing of the peace process…but after the peace accord there was simply no effort by government to do anything about that.” In that context, local republican and loyalist community agencies began to devise strategies to keep young people away from the influence of paramilitary justice – and to work directly with the paramilitary groups to transform their informal ‘policing’ of neighborhoods towards increasingly restorative interventions. In the early 2000s, following New Zealand’s model of family group conferencing, the NI government  legislated a state-run systematized approach to restorative justice. The complex interplay between community-based and state-run initiatives has interesting parallels with the New Zealand experiment in systematization.

The following photos were taken during a wander through the streets of Belfast in early 2011. The encouraging and admonishing scrawls toward the bottom were written by travelers on a massive wall dividing Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. These messages are among thousands of others.

Looking back at these images, I’m reminded of author James Gilligan’s provocative claim: “All violence is an effort to do justice or undo injustice”


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