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‘See no Evil, Hear no Evil’ Insidious Paramilitary Violence in Northern Ireland

Knox, Colin
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) British Journal of Criminology. 42:164-185.

Northern Ireland has been variously described as having an ‘imperfect peace’ in which ‘acceptable levels of violence’ persist. Despite the endorsement of the main political parties to the principles of ‘democracy and non-violence’ enshrined in the Belfast Agreement, an insidious and brutalizing form of paramilitary violence continues within communities. The government has opted to ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ given what is at stake given the wider political process. According to this approach, one must accept certain violent excesses in the interest of moving forward politically. This, however, creates both conceptual and practical problems around the issue of violence in Northern Ireland. By conceding that paramilitaries ‘police’ the informal criminal justice system in their areas with political and, in most cases, legal impunity, the government, de facto, defines what is ‘an acceptable level of violence.’ This paper considers the nature and extent of ongoing paramilitary violence , how it has become enmeshed in negotiated settlements and the consequence of politicization of violence. Within this discussion of violence, there is a discussion of the restorative justice schemes that are being supported as an alternative. (author’s abstract).


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