A Global Research Institute of Queen's University Belfast

Research

Black Taxi Tour

8/07/2016


written by Chelsea Mulligan, University of South Florida

Our Friday lectures mainly covered the concept of transitional justice; the first lecturer, Dr Luke Moffatt, covered transitional justice from the perspective of international law. He defined this concept as a way of rebuilding social trust in the state, which can involve many complicated processes. This lecture and the one following given by Professor Kieran McEvoy were interesting, but because of the short day I got to experience the lecture in the context of our location. This is exactly what study abroad trips are for, and it made all the difference.

After the lecture I went on a "black cab tour" with three other USF students. During these tours, a cab driver takes you through Belfast and gives you the background of much of the city's political history. We had a similar experience on a bus tour with Dr. Bryan, but this was much more personal - and, perhaps more importantly, it offered a view of the conflict that was from a less academic standpoint. Our cab driver was a Catholic from Belfast and, consequently, gave his own version of events, which did not mimic the relatively neutral position of the classroom setting. His reactions made it clear that Belfast is still very much in a "transition" away from conflict and is certainly not a post-conflict society.

During the tour, the driver also referenced many concepts we had heard about during our lectures, particularly the second lecture with Professor McEvoy. Specifically, he brought up "Stakeknife," an important IRA leader who has recently been outed as a spy who was working for the British government. Stakeknife was personally responsible for many deaths and planned executions based on what was strategically best for the British government. Professor McEvoy explained all of this, but hearing it from an average citizen made it rather clear that these issues really do stretch to all levels of society. By no means is this a conflict confined to academic circles, which is also obvious from the political murals all over the city, many of which honor those who the community consider as fallen heroes of their respective paramilitary groups.

Our cab driver also explained that currently, many of the existing paramilitary groups are deeply intertwined with criminal activity, which Professor McEvoy also touched upon. He agreed with Professor McEvoy's statement that some of the gang violence is currently pacified by funding through the European Union, which will most likely disappear within a couple years due to the Brexit. The cab driver articulated the deep divisions within society that still wind through every day life, reflected in everything from attention-grabbing murals and ten-foot walls to territorial flags. However, our cab driver also provided hope, showing that Belfast is making moves out of conflict. He said he thought with the movement towards integrating children, the conflict might die out within 10 or 15 years. All of this reflects and intensifies what we have been learning in our lectures.

In terms of our Friday lectures, I would say that Northern Ireland is slowly moving towards joining the third phase of transitional justice. According to Dr. Moffatt, this involves a high degree of victim input and grass-roots activity. It is most important in this phase that people tell their stories as a way to find closure and, finally, to move forward. In fact, as discussed in our lecture, the ultimate goal of the third phase is to accept the past and move on from it. This is exactly the sentiment that our cab driver expressed near the end of our ride when he said that he wished Northern Ireland, and especially Belfast, could finally push past the pass and work towards acceptance.