Victims as moral beacons: victims and perpetrators in Northern Ireland

John D Brewer, Bernadette C Hayes

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45 Citations (Scopus)


‘Victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are problematic legal, moral and political categories, and public policies towards them are complicated by their contested status. This is particularly the case in Northern Ireland where conceptions of perpetrators and victims, including the right to the label ‘victim’, has caused much division and debate. Despite this controversy, to date previous research in relation to this issue has been extremely limited and this is particularly the case when evidence based on nationally representative survey data is considered. It is with this omission in mind that this paper focuses on the relationship between victimhood status and public perceptions concerning the perpetrators of the conflict within this society. Using the 2004 Life and Times Survey, the results suggest some notable differences between the two main religious communities—Protestant and Catholic—both in terms of their victimhood status as well as whom they hold primarily responsible for the violence. The evidence suggests that those who claim a victimhood status are notably more likely than those who do not to adopt a partisan stance when identifying the main protagonists of the conflict, and this is particularly the case within the Catholic community. This finding calls into question the claim that victims should constitute the ‘moral beacon’ in post-conflict societies against which other people measure their own capacity for forgiveness or revenge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-88
Number of pages16
JournalContemporary Social Science
Issue number1
Early online date16 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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