Members of the Institute maintain a commitment to working with individuals and organizations in the local community and value the contribution their research can make on local justice issues and the protection of rights. They are members of (and hold various positions with) local and international human rights and justice organizations and regularly speak on such issues at conferences and community meetings. Institute members are regularly commissioned to conduct research for non-governmental and semi-governmental bodies, as well as formal criminal justice agencies. Linkages with the community are also strengthened by the Institute’s Board of Advisers, who hale from community organizations, criminal justice agencies, and other academic institutions.
The following are a few examples of past projects that have had a particular influence outside of the academic realm. Transforming Cultures of Violence “from below:” Victims, Ex-Combatants, Communities
ICCJ members organised a major international conference on the theme of Transforming Cultures of Violence ‘from below’: Victims, Ex-Combatants, Communities. The conference was organised by PhD student Kirsten McConnachie, ICCJ Director Professor Kieran McEvoy and visiting-professor Harry Mika, as part of an ongoing research project on grassroots peace-building which has involved fieldwork in South Africa, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Indonesia and Colombia.
It became clear during the course of fieldwork that despite the obvious differences in context, local communities in each country were grappling with similar questions, including defining and meeting the needs of victims and survivors of conflict; assessing the potential of truth and justice initiatives; and recognising the role of ex-combatants in rebuilding society after conflict.
A conference in Belfast presented the perfect means to bring overseas community activists together with those working in Northern Ireland to debate issues of mutual concern. From the outset, the conference was designed to incorporate local voices and reflect issues of genuine community interest. In the planning stages, a consultation was sent to more than 200 individuals and organisations inviting suggestions for presentation themes and panel topics.
International participants from Colombia, Sierra Leone and South Africa arrived three days in advance of the conference event to take part in a series of intensive meetings with community groups, including WAVE Trauma Centre, Healing Through Remembering, CRJI, Northern Ireland Alternatives, EPIC, InterComm, Coiste and others.
This process of consultation, meeting and participation paid dividends at the main event, which attracted delegates from all across Ireland, as well as from England, Scotland and even South Africa. International speakers presented papers on themes including “Victims’ Needs: Truth, Justice and a View ‘from below’;” “Insiders and Outsiders in Transitional Contexts;” “Leadership and Transition from Conflict;” and “The Role of NGOs in Political Transition.” Respondents from Northern Ireland reflected upon the local context in panels which addressed the topics “Community, Reconciliation and the Needs of Victims: The Northern Ireland Transition” and “Ex-Combatants and Communities: Northern Ireland Responses.”
The balance between international experience and local knowledge provided stimulating presentations and enthusiastic discussion, driven by a diverse audience which included members of statutory services, voluntary, charitable and religious organisations, as well as a number of staff and research students from Queen’s University Belfast. Stone-throwing Research and Community Impact
Pete Shirlow is continuing work on the rise and effect of stone throwing attacks upon the essential services – Northern Ireland Ambulance Service; the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade; Translink; West Belfast Taxi Association – in Northern Ireland. This particular form of anti-social behaviour has a negative and long-term effect not only upon staff members of the services but also upon communities. The adverse effects of stone-throwing include:
Physical attacks upon staff and subsequent emotional and health difficulties; Financial loss by service providers due to the cost of repairs, withdrawal of services and the replacement of damaged vehicles and equipment; and the withdrawal of services to communities containing high levels of social exclusion.
Due to the growth in attacks on service providers, the Police Service of Northern Ireland in West Belfast approached a number of groups with regard to formalising a strategy aimed at reducing the incidence of stone throwing attacks. The aim of the work, which is based upon working with the essential service groups, youth groups and restorative justice organizations, is to:
- improve the quality of life of the community by reducing attacks on essential services;
- work jointly with other groups to ensure the effective delivery of all essential services; and
- examine models of prevention, diversion and intervention.
Clare Dwyer has now joined the group to help develop a more focused approach to understanding the motivations behind such violence. Young People and Social Exclusion
Professor Scraton has continued to work with community-based organisations in West Belfast, specifically focusing on young people and social exclusion and agencies' responses to “antisocial behaviour.”
He has participated in local community seminars and conferences with Falls Community Council, the Upper Springfield Safer Neighbourhood Forum, and the Participation in Democracy project. He is also Chair of the Board of Include Youth where he contributes particularly on youth justice and policing.