• forgiveness;
  • justice;
  • punishment;
  • reconciliation;
  • Truth Commission;
  • Northern Ireland


The Peace Process in Northern Ireland is about to reach another milestone: the Consultative Group on the Past is due to publish a report in the autumn of 2008 on “the best way to deal with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland” and to support the building of “a shared future.” It is timely therefore to think again—and further—about what political expression forgiveness might find, using the concrete case of Northern Ireland today as grist for our conceptual mill. This essay opens with two preliminaries: an account of what forgiveness is and how it relates to resentment, punishment, repentance, and reconciliation; and a brief summary of the “Troubles.” It then proceeds to caution that reconciliation will have to be realized in the midst of persistent enmity; to explore what a Truth Commission might achieve, and the limits of it; to consider whether the discovery of fresh truth should issue in further judicial proceedings, and how far these will disturb the Peace Process; and to suggest that the British Government could erect public memorials to the dead on all sides. It concludes that in addition to Government action, there is need for the popular exercise of certain virtues—including grateful, hopeful patience, forgiveness-as-compassion, and public penitence.