Spectres of History: Nationalist Party Politics and Truth Recovery in Northern Ireland

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Abstract

This article critically explores the idea that resolving ethnic conflicts requires some form of truth recovery mechanism to ensure accountability for past actions. While the truth recovery model suggests the need for a pluralistic, inclusive approach to peace building, I argue that its intersection with party and identity politics means that it has the potential to destabilise settlement processes. Using the Northern Ireland case as an example, I describe how the truth recovery model can trigger a contest over the past in which ethnicised understandings of the past and the present come to the fore. An essentially disruptive element in peace building, truth recovery conjures into existence alternative historical narratives, counterfactual historical scenarios and, in an ethnically divided society, may actually narrow the space for debating ‘peace’ and thereby reproduce entrenched and polarised identities.

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