Designing Systems for Achieving Justice after a Peace Agreement: Northern Ireland's Struggle with the Past

21 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2016

Date Written: April 20, 2016


Much has happened in Northern Ireland as a result of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement that would not have seemed possible in the years of violence leading up to the Agreement. It looks as if peace is moving forward, but in reality, there is considerable fragility in civil society where conflict is still very much present on the ground. During this post-conflict era, there are multiple contested issues in Northern Ireland that are rooted in the fundamental question of how to remember the legacy of the past, a past which continues to have a destabilizing effect on the present. The challenges are daunting in the face of apparent political paralysis and lack of trust between unionists and nationalists leaders. How to recover truth and make peace with the past? How to determine whose narratives count when it comes to recovering truth? How to determine the identity of victims and how to care for them? How to address the aftermath of conflict and trauma related illness?

The current fragility of the Northern Ireland peace process offers an opportunity to consider these issues from a dispute systems design (DSD) perspective. Thus far, in designing systems to address disputes related to remembering the past, Northern Ireland has taken an unstructured, eclectic approach. It has employed both rights based and interest based models with a mix of processes ranging from commissions, fact-finding bodies, independent review panels and public inquiries to public dialogues and prosecutions. But still no official truth recovery system is in place and there is no official reconciliation mechanism. Instead, there is peace without reconciliation.

I will argue in this Article that the on-going, unstructured model for dealing with the legacy of the past has not worked in Northern Ireland where distrust among divided communities is common. Instead of the current eclectic approach, I propose a more comprehensive, structured regime using Dispute System Design (DSD) principles. These principles provide the opportunity for an independent, participatory framework that can help to build trust and then guide and facilitate a sustainable truth recovery and reconciliation process.

Keywords: Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Peace Process, Truth & Reconciliation, Dispute System Design, Historical Enquiries Team, Conflict

Suggested Citation

Nolan-Haley, Jacqueline M., Designing Systems for Achieving Justice after a Peace Agreement: Northern Ireland's Struggle with the Past (April 20, 2016). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Forthcoming, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2767849, Available at SSRN:

Jacqueline M. Nolan-Haley (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6849 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

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