Redress for Past Harms? Official Apologies in Northern Ireland

The International Journal of Human Rights, Online, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2015.1050235

Posted: 21 Jul 2015 Last revised: 8 Apr 2017

See all articles by Patricia Lundy

Patricia Lundy

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute

Bill Rolston

University of Ulster - Transitional Justice Institute

Date Written: July 21, 2015

Abstract

This article critically examines the nature, role and function of official apologies with respect to conflict-related deaths in Northern Ireland. It draws on empirical research of investigations carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) in state involvement cases and in particular a sample of unpublished reports that prompted official apologies. These reports also contain individual 'perpetrator' apologies or expressions of regret. Apologies are promoted as an important transitional justice tool, and the topic has generated considerable literature. However, while that literature has touched upon the possible adverse effects of apologies, there has been less focus on examining the empirical evidence of situations where apologies have turned out to have negative effects. This article addresses aspects of this research gap through the lens of three key transitional justice themes: redress, reparation and victims’ agency. Pivotal questions are raised about the value of apology to the victim on the one hand and the state on the other. The conceding or withholding of official apologies is examined: who qualifies and why, and whether certain victims are deemed 'undeserving' of an apology. The article concludes by suggesting that a pattern of official apologies without accountability and acceptance of responsibility is emerging in Northern Ireland; that official apologies can function as a way to shield state institutions, deflect further scrutiny, deny culpability, avoid effective redress and placate and silence victims. In this context historical injustice may be intensified rather than rectified, causing more harm than good, at best glossing over past wrongs and at worst facilitating impunity and re-traumatising victims.

Keywords: Official Apology, Historical Enquiries Team (HET), Northern Ireland, redress, reparation, agency

Suggested Citation

Lundy, Patricia and Rolston, Bill, Redress for Past Harms? Official Apologies in Northern Ireland (July 21, 2015). The International Journal of Human Rights, Online, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2015.1050235, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2633906

Patricia Lundy

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute ( email )

Shore Road
Newtownabbey, County Antrim BT37 OQB
Northern Ireland

Bill Rolston (Contact Author)

University of Ulster - Transitional Justice Institute ( email )

Shore Road
Newtownabbey, County Antrim BT37 OQB
Northern Ireland

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