The article begins by addressing the contribution and limits of postcolonial studies to the understanding of colonialism; in particular, it critiques the field's fixation on the discursive to the detriment of the material reality of colonialism. We then examine the intellectual history of transitional justice (TJ) as a field and a practice and itemize some of the criticisms made of its shortcomings, not least in relation to colonial harms. These harms are considered in detail through the specific example of colonialism in Ireland. We focus on the noticeable absence of the concept of colonialism from contemporary deliberations and practices of transition in relation to the Northern Ireland conflict. Finally, we interrogate the ability of TJ in the postcolonial period to adequately make amends for colonialism, again focusing on the Irish case, concluding that while there are major obstacles in such a task, especially in relation to “hard” measures, there are also some promising possibilities, particularly as regards “soft” measures. The lessons learnt are applicable to a range of other transitional sites grappling with postcolonial legacies.
- colonialism, transitional justice, Ireland, redress, reparation