Justice, truth and oral history: legislating the past 'from below' in Northern Ireland

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Drawing on the ‘from below’ perspective which has emerged in transitional justice scholarship and practice over the past two decades, this article critically examines the dealing with the past debate in Northern Ireland. The paper begins by offering an outline of the from below perspective in the context of post-conflict or post-authoritarian societies which are struggling to come to terms with past violence and human rights abuses. Having provided some of the legal and political background to the most recent efforts to deal with the past in Northern Ireland, it then critically examines the relevant past-related provisions of the Stormont House Agreement, namely the institutions which are designed to facilitate ‘justice’, truth recovery and the establishment of an Oral History Archive. Drawing from the political science and social movement literature on lobbying and the ways in which interests groups may seek to influence policy, the paper then explores the efforts of the authors and others to contribute to the broader public debate, including through drafting and circulating a ‘Model Bill’ on dealing with the past (reproduced elsewhere in this issue) as a counterweight to the legislation which is required from the British government to implement the Stormont House Agreement. The authors argue that the combination of technical capacity, grass-roots credibility and ‘international-savvy’ local solutions offers a framework for praxis from below in other contexts where activists are struggling to extend ownership of transitional justice beyond political elites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-90
Number of pages24
JournalNorthern Ireland Legal Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 May 2016


  • Dealing with the Past
  • Northern Ireland
  • Stormont House Agreement
  • Victims
  • Oral history
  • Truth Recovery


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