Considerations of Justice in the Good Friday Agreement (1998)

Researched and Written by Mary Dillon ©

Completed Spring 2021 under the instruction of Grinnell’s Professor Sala

Synopsis excerpted from the paper’s introduction:

While some groups in Northern Ireland believed the Good Friday Agreement failed to provide justice, much of the global public considered it a major success when ratified. One of the main jobs of politicians is to keep peaceful states and cultivate justice where injustice exists – especially in states with regional conflicts. Yet, conceptualizations of justice are not consistent. I began my research by asking the question, which preconceptions about what peace agreements require determine what politicians can do for peace and justice in post-conflict communities? How do politicians implement justice while they negotiate peace? Because there are so many definitions of what justice is, I first investigated what theoretical forms justice can take and then looked to find them in practice using the Good Friday Agreement (1998).

I choose to look at the Good Friday Agreement because after nearly two decades of successful peacekeeping, Northern Ireland is again suffering from violence amongst youth. Further, the Good Friday Agreement has reentered the newsroom because of post-Brexit debates over whether the Northern Ireland Protocol invalidates portions of this agreement. The Good Friday Agreement is not being threatened due to its contents becoming invalidated or overruled; rather, the geopolitical situation in the British Isles has shifted and people are looking to the Good Friday Agreement for answers and to make sure the peace it cultivated is strong enough to stay intact. Since the Good Friday Agreement’s contents and goals are not under scrutiny, it was the ideal case to assess how provisions of justice are included in peace agreements. I will examine what facets of justice are present in the Good Friday Agreement, what facets it lacks, and what that means for what politicians in Northern Ireland need to do to prevent a reemergence of widespread violence.

I argue that politicians include justice provisions in peace agreements that most importantly address solving the conflict at hand before looking to include other facets of justice. Further, politicians act strategically in how they write justice provisions to make them more comprehensive and that justice provisions require coordination amongst parties involved in peace talks before being included in agreements. I will first look to existing scholarship on peace agreements, how justice fits into them, and how scholars have thus far examined what justice is. Next, I will outline the major types of justice and settings for justice to take place. I will next apply these theories to my own reading of the Good Friday Agreement to see which facets of justice are the most prevalent and explore my own theories for why the inclusion of justice came to be formatted how it is in the agreement.

Conflicting Theories in Scholarship

Not all political scientists believe it is possible to balance peace and justice. Literature on constitution-making has widened the divide between peace and justice, with Laitin (1995) and Tellez (2019) arguing that agreement-makers often sacrifice of justice in favor of peace. This view comes from the coordination-negotiation approach to strategic agreement making. In coordinating an agreement, some goals must be sacrificed to reach the most fair and wide-reaching agreement. For a peace agreement to stick, all groups involved who have credible threats and promises must ‘sit at the table.’ Bringing more credible groups to the table elongates conflict because bargaining is more difficult among four groups than two (Cunningham 2011). Further, the reintegration of people who are viewed as culprits of violence and pain is essential to prevent future conflict, yet this is a difficult sell to those victimized by the conflict (Laitin 1995). It is also important for governments to try to repair harm done to the victims of conflict as to not betray their trust as a ruling body. The conflicting interests of groups with credible threats and promises are not always compatible. [1] Yet, the end-goal of a peace agreement is to achieve peace, and other considerations such as that of justice may have to be left out if they prevent peace from occurring. Thus, Because of the sacrifices required by agreement coordination, the literature on constitution-making that implies that peace and justice are not always compatible goals amongst agreement-makers.

At the same time, the peace scholars argue that justice is an integral part to post-conflict negotiations and peace agreements. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) declared that “There can be no justice without peace. And there can be no peace without justice” (King 1968). Since then, peace scholars have supplied empirical evidence for this claim. Joseph Cox (2020) argues that peace agreements encourage efforts to move society through restorative justice. Other scholars argue that justice and accountability are prerequisites for peace to take effect (Druckman and Albin 2011; Schenker 2016). These contradictory relationships present a dilemma about what is required for the success of both peace and justice efforts. Despite conflicting arguments about which direction the relationship flows, these studies show that no matter the relationship, peace and justice work in tandem. Examining the different relationships between peace and justice is important because it helps scholars understand the most efficient methods of post-conflict reconciliation.

When looking at justice on its own, scholars disagree on what is the most beneficial approach to studying justice. In their research, Roch and Shanock (2006) examine organizational justice[2] and its subcategories, clarifying distinctions between the subcategories and looking to understand the relationship between organizational justice and an individual’s satisfaction at work. Other scholars such as Social psychologist E. Allen Lind (2001) argue that without empirical tests, it is “premature to argue away these theoretical differences [between types of organizational justice] in the interest of attempting to reach a unitary view of how justice judgments work.” This debate on organizational justice provides insight into what academics consider useful categorization and can steer the conversation about what politicians consider useful forms of justice by comparing their preferences and needs to those of academics.

As stated previously, I intend to uncover what mechanisms and political priorities constrain justice in peace agreements. My case study analysis into the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland will allow me to parse out where exactly the balance between this conflicting scholarship lies. To understand this, one must first understand the context in which politicians enacted the Good Friday Agreement…

[1] An example of this conflict is whether to punish a group for their role as perpetrators of conflict or not. A victimized group would be more likely to want justice for harms against them, whereas a perpetrating group may refuse to sign an agreement that unreasonably punishes them.

[2] Organizational justice is a category of justices most prevalent within defined groups of people with shared experiences and identities. The facets of justice included in organizational justice – and will be touched on later – are distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. Much of the literature on it considers a workplace environment as the setting for organizational justice (Roch and Shanock 2006; Moliner et al. 2017; Ambrose et al. 2007). That does not prevent any type of organizational justice from relevance in a larger society; the example of procedural justice within law enforcement (see footnote 10) is an instance of organizational justice in a society at large.

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Cox, J. M. (2019). Negotiating justice: Ceasefires, peace agreements, and post-conflict justice. Journal of Peace Research, 57(3), 466–481.

Cunningham, D. (2011). The effects of veto players on conflict severity, genocide, and the duration of peace. In Barriers to Peace in Civil War (pp. 183-201). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511993374.005

Druckman, D., & Albin, C. (2010). Distributive Justice and the Durability of Peace Agreements. SSRN Electronic Journal.

King Jr., M. L. (1968, January 14). I’m Sorry Sir You Don’t Know Me [Speech audio recording]. YouTube.

Laitin, D. (1995). Transitions to democracy and territorial integrity. In A. Przeworski (Ed.), Sustainable democracy. essay, Cambridge University Press.

Lind, E. A., & Tyler, T. R. (1988). The social psychology of procedural justice. New York: Plenum.

Roch, S. G., & Shanock, L. R. (2006). Organizational Justice in an Exchange Framework: Clarifying Organizational Justice Distinctions. Journal of Management, 32(2), 299–322.

Schenker, H. (n.d.). There will not be a stable peace without justice and accountability. Palestine – Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture; East Jerusalem, 21(3), 114–125.

Tellez, J. F. (2019). Peace agreement design and public support for peace: Evidence from Colombia. Journal of Peace Research, 56(6), 827–844.

“The Northern Ireland Peace Agreement.” Ireland-United Kingdom. April 10, 1998. United Nations Peacemaker.