Contesting Community Justice: Paramilitary Punishment in Ireland (North)

Dermot Feenan, University of Ulster

Paramilitary organisations in the North of Ireland, such as the IRA, have long policed their own communities alongside broader military strategies. Such policing, often involving severe punishment of offenders, represents, in part, a contest over the legitimacy of criminal justice within a society deeply divided along ethno-national lines, large parts of which experience alienation from the formal state system, particularly in the recent thirty-three years of political violence. It also represents, in part, locally-based responses to crime within predominantly urban working class areas drawing upon significant community support. This paper argues that paramilitary punishment is largely a form of community justice, but not strictly in the sense in which that term is used in recent criminology literature. It contends that, in general, previous attempts at understanding such practices have foundered on simplistic and/or moralistic perspectives about the relationship between paramilitaries and their communities can only be understood and delivered through such a nuanced appreciation. Attempts to re-invent justice within communities must address the particular political circumstances and social settings in which local crime management has evolved. This paper raises a range of issues that will be of relevance in wider debates about community justice and crime, including: the contested nature of community; the continuing interest in informal justice; relations between the state and diverse areas or communities within the jurisdictional borders of the state; the construction of a 'rule of law' or criminal justice 'system'; and, the challenges to local justice within increasing governmentality.

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Updated 05/20/2006