Source: (2002) British Journal of Criminology 42:534-562

This article examines the development of community-based restorative justice in the context of the Northern Ireland peace process. In tandem with the political changes introduced as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, and the reforms of policing and the criminal justice system which occurred as a result of that accord, this article charts the parallel attempts to use community-based restorative justice programmes as alternatives to paramilitary punishment violence. In analysing the controversy surrounding such projects, the authors argue that the traditional critiques of informal justice have been revisited and revitalized in the ongoing political struggles involving restorative justice in the jurisdiction. These critiques are: the supposedly sinister nature of community-based restorative justice, the idealization of ‘community’ in such projects as essentially consensual and harmonious, the critique of such projects as a technical and evaluative failure and finally the claim that such projects are impossible. The authors argue that the Northern Ireland experience suggests grounds for a rejection of the cynicism of ‘nothing works’ and argue that the transition to peace lays down moral imperatives including the search for justice practice that ameliorates the violence of the past.