Accounting for the past: the role of public apologies in Ireland

Anna Bryson, Muiris MacCarthaigh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
98 Downloads (Pure)


Demands for accountability are a prominent feature of contemporary public life. Although much academic attention has focused on perceived denials of accountability and blame avoidance in various political, administrative and transitional justice contexts, there has been much less analysis of blame acceptance and efforts to provide accountability. This paper explores attempts to provide such accountability through the medium of public apologies. It considers accountability as an iterative process that is intrinsically linked to perceptions by target audiences. Our analysis draws on a survey of 1007 citizens across the island of Ireland and public attitudes to apologies reflected in focus groups with a stratified sample of the general population. We find that the public appetite for apologies is strong and that they are generally valued as a core element of accountability provision. Public evaluations of such apologies are nonetheless modulated by a range of intersecting variables. In the concluding section we consider these various dynamics and reflect on how viewing public apologies as a complex dialogic process can inform broader conceptual understandings of accountability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-595
Number of pages25
JournalIrish Political Studies
Issue number4
Early online date28 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 02 Oct 2022


  • Apologies
  • Accountability
  • Audience
  • Ireland
  • Reputation


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