- Love's Pursuit:An Approach to Transitional Justice in Ireland
Although commonly associated with processes emerging from conflict, transitional justice offers a way of thinking about the relationship between past, present, and future in Ireland today. When seen as an approach rather than a prescription, transitional justice encapsulates commitment to change, recognition of the indivisibility of past and present, and collective responsibility for past wrongs, present opportunities, and future transformation. Thus, while scholarly literature is now emerging on how the modalities of transitional justice might be adjusted and applied in the Irish context—including the other contributions to this special issue—I instead focus on how and why transitional justice offers new ways of thinking about what we conventionally call "the past," and about how love brings us to experience time in a redemptive fashion. Mindful of the grave violations of human rights and dignity and institutional wrongs done to children in Ireland, I come to this understanding not only as an official with ministerial responsibility but also as a feminist, an advocate for social justice, and a believer in the lasting efficacy of love. From these epistemological standpoints, I view transitional justice as an ethical imperative to deal with the injustice that characterized the first half century of the Irish state and continues to have ramifications in everyday lives today.1 [End Page 315]
Given its provenance, the use of the term "transitional justice" to describe the task that now faces us is appropriate. It acknowledges the everyday brutality of the gender injustice that so many have experienced in Ireland and captures an aspiration to transform the country into a republic of substantive equality—while acknowledging the need for modalities of doing justice. This is why, in the first major contribution that I made to Dáil Éireann on the confirmed burial of children's remains in the grounds of a former mother-and-baby home in Tuam in March 2017,2 I signaled my commitment to proceeding with a transitional-justice approach to address Ireland's socalled "historical" abuses:
We must listen to, record, and honor the truth of people's experiences. We must commit to the best of our ability to recognizing, recording, and making reparations for the truth…. As a feminist, Independent minister, and Irish woman, I feel a moral and ethical compulsion to reach beyond the legal questions of what happened in Tuam and elsewhere. That compulsion is driven by the need to arrive at this truth. It is only from acceptance of the truth that we can move past it, not by drawing a line under it but by highlighting it and recognizing it as part of our history and part of our national story…. Transitional justice puts survivors and victims at the heart of the process. It commits to pursuing justice through truth. It aims to achieve not only individual justice but also a wider societal transition from more repressive times in order to move from one era to another. Taking a transitional-justice approach means that we will find out and record the truth, ensure accountability, make reparation, undertake institutional reform, and achieve reconciliation.3
In this article I outline my vision for transitional justice in Ireland. This is a vision that, although informed by well-developed legal frameworks, is not solely determined by them. Instead I focus here [End Page 316] primarily on what might be imagined outside of legal and legalistic processes (including statutory or other inquiries). I want to offer here an approach that also emanates from an ethical vision grounded in a feminist commitment to love. In doing so, I gesture toward the desirability of pluralizing approaches without denying that adherence to formal legal processes is a critical part of the broader process of transitional justice. These legal processes are extensively considered in other contributions to this collection,4 and of course we must comply with our obligations under both international human-rights law and national law. We must learn from experiences in other jurisdictions, and we must take seriously the structures, expectations, and norms of doing transitional justice that have developed through international and comparative legal practice.
However, what is needed first, I...