The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Restoration of Restorative Justice


Marcel M. Baumann • 14 June 2006

"Allowing such people power is like letting the lunatics run the asylum."

David Lidington, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, quoted a spokesman for the rape crisis and sexual abuse centre in Northern Ireland, who claimed that members of community restorative justice schemes have "threatened women and attempted to cover up crimes committed by those with IRA, Sinn Fein or CRJ connections". (see: House of Com-mons: Hansard edition; 23 November 2005; Column 1498 & 1499). The opponents of restora-tive justice range right across the board of the Northern Irish political spectrum. The SDLP view it as a form of "vigilant policing"; the party's criticism culminated in Mark Durkan's words: "We can't have local warlords being turned into local law lords." Anthony McIntyre expressed the widespread thesis, that CRJ is just a new name for the IRA.

By and large the supporters and critics of restorative justice make their points quite well, thus the arguments for and against are fairly balanced. The aim of this article, therefore, is not to develop a colourful political defense of the restorative justice projects in Northern Ireland. By contrast, my main thesis is that the potential for restorative justice does indeed exist in Northern Ireland that could satisfy all of us; however, it has not been fulfilled yet. Yes, people might question the restorative justice projects that are in place. But it is the application of restorative justice that might be flawed, the philosophy itself remains unchallenged!

Restorative justice is a vision or philosophy that has to be applied in practice; and yes, again, there are shortcomings in today's restorative justice projects Northern Ireland. But these shortcomings are not solely the fault of Jim Auld (or Tom Winston from Alternatives), but the fault lines can be identified in various problems that are typically arising in all "post-war so-cieties": South Africa, Namibia, El Salvador, Macedonia and countless others. Conflict trans-formation processes are typically accompanied by high levels of crime: political violence is replaced by criminal violence.

Northern Ireland is no exception from that. These problems, however, have to be handled in an appropriate way.

So let's try and explore where the potential for common ground in the restorative justice debate lies. I am suggesting that the idea of restorative justice can be restored in the Northern Ireland context along the lines of the Gandhian way of thought. Ok, that's the point where people may call me naïve or romantic and this article might be binned immediately. Lights out. Full stop!

However, what may be hard to believe for the "unromantic", rational academic elite is the fact that Gandhi has never been a moralist. His philosophy was always applied pragmatism: "I am not a visionary. I claim to be a practical idealist." Restorative justice is applied philosophy. Gandhi once said that if there was only the choice between cowardice and violence, he would recommend violence. Gandhi, for himself, didn't see things in a solely dualistic perspective, which may seem hard to understand for us Westerners: For him, mankind was on a constant journey of evolution: cowardice, the lowest end of the ladder, will be replaced by violence until the human conscience reaches the highest point, i.e. nonviolence.

Restorative justice as a philosophy has enshrined the principle of nonviolence. So, if some of the allegations against CRJ may be proven true the use of any form of violence (physical or psychological) is incompatible with the core principles of restorative justice! By contrast, the theory of restorative justice can be summarised by two simple negations: no enemies and no demands! The focus has to be shifted towards an emphasis on needs. It is very much about Gandhi's term he used for "nonviolence": "Satyagraha" - "to offer dignity". Dignity to the victims of crime, the community AND the perpetrators.

Nonviolence, which is grounded in the worth and dignity of every human being, really arises from the struggle within a person to overcome potentially destructive drives like anger and fear. The results of that struggle are moral architecture for social justice and world peace. And those who keep repeating the popular notion that violence is something like a natural response or a natural phenomenon should keep in mind that that's an old myth. Twenty top behaviour-ists gathered under U.N. auspices to produce a document in 1983, the Declaration of Seville, which exploded the false science that had been used to suggest or state that there's a biologi-cal and therefore inevitable basis of violence. Behaviourist Frans de Waal describes a very poignant moment of seeing chimpanzees in the Arnheim Zoo in Holland reconciling after a quarrel. He wondered what the literature had to say about this. And of course he found nothing. There were reams and reams about how chimps get into fights, but nothing about how they get out of them. It's just not something that is studied. In 1909, Gandhi wrote that what we call "history" is designed not to recognize or document nonviolence. In fact, what history documents are breakdowns in the social system. Gandhi was trying to make nothing more nor less than a breakthrough in the history of consciousness, to show that nonviolent force has kept humanity alive for countless generations.

The communities in Northern Ireland are deeply concerned with rising crime and extremely worried about there own safety and security - breakdowns in the social system! In the communities' view, violence is the only way to respond to these breakdowns. Violence, however, does not bring security; if history teaches anything, it teaches us that.

In order for restorative justice to work in reducing crime in the community it has to be linked with community policing. Community policing is in itself a process and not a product:

Policing activity will become tuned to community priorities, and joint problem solving will become the familiar tool that the baton has been, as local police replace authority and force with negotiation and consultation. The police will be accountable to the communities that they serve as this major shift from a police force to a police service gathers momentum.

These are the words of Susan Colin Marks, who has done a lot of training with the South African police. In Northern Ireland the process of "community policing" has yet to be started. Hans Fritzheimer, who leads the European Police reform project called "Proxima" in Macedonia, told me in an interview that from his international experience no "big bang approach" to police reforms can be successful in creating a police service qualifying for international police standards that everybody wants to have. The "South African Sinn Fein" called ANC long ago came to the painful realisation that there will be no such "big bang approach" to the old Apartheid police force:

We of the ANC are painfully aware that, like Zimbabwe and Namibia, the new South Africa will kick off with a wrongly oriented police force. (Penuell Maduna)

Outsiders like me should always be reluctant in giving advice or making recommendations. I am aware that this country is heavily "colonised" by foreigners who want to implement peace processes every year. Yes, the communities in Northern Ireland are sick of being researched - but I think they are even more sick of research that produces no results and has no meaning for their daily lives. Thus, "with all due respect", the following arguments may be seen as my own contribution to the consultation process Northern Ireland Justice Minister Hanson is ask-ing for:

  • Projects like Alternatives and CRJ need state funding. They don't need state patronage!
  • If we take it for granted, that we cannot expect a "big bang" from the RUC police force to a new PSNI police service, how can we expect a big bang from the IRA? What about CRJ indeed being a new role for the IRA? In the same manner as Alternatives could be a new role for the UVF? Therefore former "so-called" paramilitary members should indeed be allowed to become active in Restorative justice projects: "Just because you have a past doesn't mean you don't have a future" were the words of David Trimble. Or take the words of David McNarry, "We've got to take it on that basis as to what is their future, what can they contribute". However, the most modern term "using paramilitaries" coined by Reg Empey could also mean that former para-militaries, which were used for violent purposes in the past, could in the future be used for nonviolent purposes, i.e. restorative justice.
  • Restorative justice has to be linked with a community policing approach. "Servamus Et Servimus - We Protect And We Serve" became the central leitmotiv for the South African Police Service. It was verified in the National Peace Accord: "The police shall endeavour to protect the people of South Africa from all criminal acts and shall to do so in a rigorously non-partisan fashion, regardless of the political belief and affiliation, race, religion, gender or ethnic origin of the perpetrators or victims of such acts." It should indeed become the central leitmotif for the PSNI!
  • Sinn Fein refuses to cooperate with the police and are not ready yet to take their seats at the Policing Board. So, what about CRJ taking up the Sinn Fein seats in the local DPPs? It would allow Sinn Fein to save their face ("We are still not cooperating wit the police!"), but it would at least start a form of dialogue with the police and the re-publican community.

Having watched recent "Let's Talk" TV debates, I've realised (painfully tough) that "decent people" are deeply worried about sizes of tables and the DPP's tables would probably no ex-ception from that. Nonetheless, restorative justice as a nonviolent alternative to violence is a "worthwhile risk if we succeed".

Marcel teaches Peace Studies and Nonviolence at the University of Freiburg in Germany. He holds an MA from the University of Ulster (Magee College) and has just finished a PhD. He is a regular visitor to Northern Ireland.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

22 June 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Framing of Michael McKevitt
Marcella Sands

Foreward to 'The Framing of Michael McKevitt'
Fr Des Wilson

Demagogues and Demigod
Tommy Gorman

Getting It Tight
John Kennedy

The Restoration of Restorative Justice
Marcel M. Baumann

DUP Analysis
Dr John Coulter

Father Faul
Fr. Sean McManus

Aiden Hulme Repatriation Picket
Paul Doyle

Prison Protest Begins
Republican Prisoners Action Group (RPAG), Republican Sinn Fein, Newry

New Hero, and a Legacy
Dr John Coulter

Charlie's Angel
John Kennedy

The Letters page has been updated.

Profile: Mehdi Mozaffari
Anthony McIntyre

The Blanket, the Cartoons and the End of Left and Right
Gabriel Glickman

The Blanket and the Cartoon Controversy: Anthony McIntyre Interviewed
Martyn Frampton

A Welcome End
Mick Hall

Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

14 June 2006

The Mark of Cain
Anthony McIntyre

Debris of the Dirty War
Mick Hall

More Claims
Martin Ingram

Case Unproven
Anthony McIntyre

Chain Gang
John Kennedy

Better to Put the Past Behind US
David Adams

The Gamblers
Dr John Coulter

Diarmaid Ferriter's The Transformation of Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Profile: Caroline Fourest
Anthony McIntyre

Le «manifeste des douze» fait réagir
Caroline Fourest

Reaction to the Manifesto (English Translation)
Liam O Ruairc

Freedom of Speech index



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