Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone PhD STM ’86 will deliver keynote remarks on campus November 1 to open a two-day conference, “Towards Transitional Justice: Recognition, Truth-telling, and Institutional Abuse in Ireland.”

The conference, organized by Associate Professor of English and Irish Studies James Smith, will bring together scholars in the international field of transitional justice along with survivors, people affected by adoption, and activists to focus on the Irish government’s response to historical abuse in the Magdalen laundries, county homes, mother and baby homes, and child residential institutions, and in the nation’s secret, forced-adoption system. Discussions will scrutinize the Irish state’s past and present treatment of women and children, and the state’s use of power in relation to people who are in vulnerable situations.

(Read James Smith's op-ed, 'Commission of Investigations Act inhibits truth-telling about past and present' in the Irish Times and Irish Central; listen to an interview on WGBH-FM Boston. Additional event coveraege: RTE, Irish Times, Times of London, Irish Independent, Irish Central, Irish Examiner 1, Irish Examiner 2, Newstalk)

Zappone is currently overseeing an Irish State Commission of Investigation examining multiple concerns related to the institutional care of unmarried mothers and their babies from 1922-1998, including the discovery of a mass grave of child and infant remains on the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam.

“Towards Transitional Justice” will discuss the key findings of the recently published CLANN Report, including the recommendations to provide a statutory right to information for adopted people and others affected by historical abuse, and the creation of a national repository of institutional records.

A portrait of James Smith

James Smith (Lee Pellegrini)

The conference, which will also examine whether truth-telling can take place in the absence of access to records, will feature a panel of abuse survivors on Nov. 2, from noon-2 p.m. in Gasson 100.

“In planning this event, we were aware that holding it on the Boston College campus offers a neutral space for conversations that are still difficult to hold back in Ireland,” said Smith, an expert in the field and author of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment. “Since 1999, the Irish state has offered apologies and financial payments for some historical abuses, but it has failed to establish truth-telling mechanisms, including the provision of access to records and archives. Without truth-telling, there can be no guarantee of non-recurrence.”

Transitional justice addresses systemic human rights abuses through both judicial and non-judicial measures, including truth commissions, reparations programs, criminal prosecutions and a range of institutional reforms.

Speaking in 2017, Zappone said, “Transitional justice puts survivors and victims at the heart of the process. It commits to pursuing justice through truth. It aims to achieve not only individual justice, but a wider societal transition from more repressive times, to move from one era to another. Taking a transitional justice approach means that we will find out and record the truth, ensure accountability, make reparation, undertake institutional reform, and achieve reconciliation.”  

Conference speakers will describe how different countries have dealt with traumatic histories related to institutional provision, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and what Ireland can learn from ‘transitional justice’ responses.

Additional speakers include Felice Gaer, of the UN Committee Against Torture, Ruth Rubio Marín, of the European University Institute, Fionnuala Ní Aolain, of the University of Minnesota, Shurlee Swain, of Australian Catholic University, Colm O’Gorman, of Amnesty International-Ireland, Patricia Lundy, of Ulster University, Emilie Pine, of University College Dublin, and James Gallen, of Dublin City University, among others.

For the full conference agenda and other information, visit The Institute for the Liberal Arts events page

—University Communications | October 31, 2018