Pathways to justice: historical institutional child abuse and the role of activist research

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This article contributes to the theorisation of responses to historical institutional child abuse by critically analysing the role of activist research. Drawing upon empirical research with survivors who participated in the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI or Hart Inquiry), including 43 in-depth interviews, five workshops and a survey, it shows that the Inquiry disempowered survivors, delimited voice, and fell short in meeting survivors’ justice needs. It further explores how activist research was used as a tool to empower survivors and achieve justice. The article begins with a detailed analysis of activist research principles, methodology and debates. It then uses a case study of the survivor-driven Panel of Experts on Redress to explore how, and to what effect, activist research was used to formulate pathways to justice. The article concludes that activist research was transformative. It gave voice to those historically marginalised and silenced, challenged powerful institutions, and brought about change to redress legislation. The amended legislation passed through Westminster in November 2019, significantly improving the Inquiry’s compensation package, thereby benefiting thousands of survivors in Northern Ireland and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhuac002
Pages (from-to)535–553
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Human Rights Practice
Issue number2
Early online date23 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Jul 2022


  • Activist Research
  • Historical Institutional Child Abuse
  • Redress


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