Friday, March 4, 2016

Using Research to Stimulate Evidence-Based Discussion on Potential Abortion Law Reform: The Reproductive Health Law and Policy Advisory Group

The Reproductive Health Law and Policy Advisory Group is a joint initiative between Queen’s University Belfast School of Law and Ulster University School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy. Its founding members are Dr Fiona Bloomer (Ulster University), Dr Kathryn McNeilly (QUB) and Dr Claire Pierson (Ulster University), all of whom have extensive research backgrounds in the area of law and policy pertaining to issues of reproductive health. The Advisory Group has been established to provide expertise and knowledge on policy and legal matters related to reproductive health; to facilitate discussions and knowledge transfer between academics, policy and law makers, health professionals and stakeholder groups; to provide advice on legal and policy reform. This week the Advisory Group undertook engagement in the area of abortion law reform.

(Anna Lo, MLA pictured with Dr Fiona Bloomer, Dr Kathryn McNeilly and Dr Claire Pierson) 

In December 2015 the Northern Ireland High Court determined current prohibition of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime incompatible with the Article 8 right to private and family life contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and issued a declaration of incompatibility requiring the Northern Ireland Assembly to remedy this incompatibility. In February 2016 the Assembly voted against legislative amendments which would reform the law. On Tuesday 1st March the Advisory Group held a roundtable event with MLAs entitled ‘Moving On From Judicial Review on Abortion in Cases of Fatal Foetal Abnormality and Sexual Crime’. Hosted at Stormont by Anna Lo MLA, the event sought to stimulate engagement with the demands raised by this issue, to present research in the area of use to law and policy makers and to offer an opportunity for discussion. Focusing on the continuing incompatibility of the current legal position, the event sought to facilitate evidence-based discussion on options for moving forward. As part of this discussion, the Advisory Group located the current legal framework within the context of global norms and explored legislative models adopted for termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime internationally. Discussion also considered how the terms ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ and ‘sexual crime’ can be understood, as well as practical issues that require addressing by the current position such as pathways for the return of foetal remains to Northern Ireland.

This initial event is part of longer-term engagement on potential reform to abortion law in Northern Ireland. The Advisory Group will also engage in discussion with medical professionals and other stakeholders on the issue as part of the Abortion and Reproductive Justice international conference being hosted by Ulster University on 2-3 June 2016. 

For further information contact:,,

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

New report on community well-being: Views from Belfast

'What makes for good community wellbeing? And how can we make communities work for wellbeing?', these are the questions being asked in a new report commissioned by the What Works Centre for Well Being. The report was produced with assistance from a range of scholars and stakeholders, including Ulster's Dr Susan Hodgett who has published widely on the theme.

Drawing on data from Bristol and Belfast, the report examines a series of issues:
  • How people define community wellbeing in the context of their own lives.
  • Essential elements of a good quality of life at each life stage.
  • Community resilience.
  • Ways to improve community wellbeing.
  • Who can do what to improve community wellbeing? 
The report can be downloaded here.

A short film on the research can be viewed here.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bringing global debates on Afrophobia to Ireland

A new report by IRiSS’s Dr Lucy Michael exploring racism against people of African nationality or descent in Ireland has added to the growing call for the wider recognition of Afrophobia in international and national institutions.

The Afrophobia in Ireland report was launched in the Mansion House, Dublin in November by Lord Mayor of Dublin Críona Ní Dhálaigh and Dr Anastasia Crickley, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Published by ENAR Ireland (Irish Network against Racism), the report ‘Afrophobia in Ireland’ demonstrates the breadth and depth of discrimination and violence against people of African descent within Ireland. Using data from the racist incident reporting system, Afrophobia sets out the hostility, antipathy, contempt and aversion directed, towards people with a background in sub-Saharan Africa or who belong to the African diaspora by individuals and state structures and institutions. The report clearly describes the patterns of incidents, perpetrators, victims and their impact, setting these out in terms of the legal, social and political contexts in which they occur. Discrimination reported includes illegal practices and discriminatory treatment in housing, education and service provision, poor policing practices and poor responses by Gardaí to racist crimes; and lack of access to healthcare and employment. Incidents range from the refusal of service, which is illegal if on the grounds of ‘race’, to disproportionate surveillance and assault of customers.

Afrophobia is a relatively new term used to denote key specific forms of global racism which people of African descent have experienced throughout the history of racism. In Ireland, despite attempts to isolate the experiences of ‘new’ migrants, racism against people of African descent is demonstrated by this report as a well established phenomenon, and one which has failed to be recognised by the State and wider society since colonial times. Afrophobia has contributed to the racialisation of Irish identities, both in Ireland and overseas, resonated with anti-Traveller racism at home, and been reflected in the result of the 2004 Citizenship Referendum, held against the spectre of ‘bad’ migrant mothers.

This report makes recommendations for improving Garda responses to racism, in light of low levels of trust in An Garda Siochana to address and understand the impact of racist incidents, and to apply the definition of racist incidents adopted in 2001. Findings showed that people of African descent experience worse outcomes from Garda involvement even where the racist incident is perpetrated against them and, should they confront the perpetrator, are more likely to be considered suspected of instigating the incident. 

The report also calls for more effective legislative measures available in the cases of repeat and escalating harassment, leave people of African descent in Ireland exposed to violence and fearful for their own lives. The removal of people experiencing harassment from their own neighbourhoods, as a default institutional response, reinforces the idea that people of African descent are out of place.

The publication of “Afrophobia in Ireland” coincides with the beginning of the United Nation’s International Decade of People of African Descent, providing an opportunity for us to examine Afrophobia in Ireland in the context of the wider life experiences of people of African descent, in Ireland and globally. The report has been well received to date, with wide coverage in the Irish print and broadcast media. As part of the ongoing dissemination of the report, Dr Michael has also presented the findings at a recent Roundtable on combatting Afrophobia in the European Union held at the European Parliament in December.

The full report and executive summary can be read at

Friday, October 16, 2015

New group to tackle hate crime

Summit announces Independent Advisory Group to be created
The next steps in preventing and eradicating hate crime in Scotland have been discussed at a Scottish Government summit today.
Hosted by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, the event was held in Edinburgh and included a range of attendees representing minority communities, key stakeholders and public authorities from across Scotland.
The summit reflected on progress made to date in tackling hate crime and, crucially, outlined the next steps that will be taken, including the creation of a new Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion, that will be led by Dr Duncan Morrow*.
The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse said:
“There is absolutely no place for bigotry and prejudice in Scotland and this Government is clear that any form of hate crime is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in 21st century Scotland.
“We have already invested more than £80 million since 2012 to advance equality and tackle discrimination and I am confident that progress is being made.
“The overall number of hate crimes reported in Scotland have fallen compared to last year’s statistics, but we know that certain communities are less likely to report crimes of this nature. For our part, we remain absolutely committed to doing all we can as a Government to tackle inequality and create and support safer and stronger communities for all.
“That is why I am pleased to announce that we are establishing an Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion and I am delighted that this group will be chaired by Dr Duncan Morrow, who I greatly respect.
“Today’s event will allow us to consult with Dr Morrow, and other relevant stakeholders, on the full remit and membership of the group before its work gets underway. Of course the main purpose of the group is to provide evidenced findings and recommendations which the Scottish Government can take forward in partnership with communities to help eliminate hate crime for good.
“Scotland is becoming a more inclusive country and this is very much to be welcomed. We want everyone in our communities to live safely and without fear and today’s summit takes us one step closer to making this vision a reality.”
The summit also discussed the research report “What Works to Reduce Prejudice? A Review of the Evidence” which was published this morning.
The research was commissioned by the Scottish Government to review the evidence on activities and interventions that have been used to reduce prejudice previously.
Main findings include:

  • There are two main theories of prejudice reduction - ‘Contact’ where exposure to others reduces prejudice itself and ‘education’ where information about other groups provides a challenge to negative attitudes;
  • Sustained activities have more impact than short-term interventions; and
  • Overly dramatic and factually incorrect interpretations of prejudice for the purpose of ‘hard hitting’ messages could risk alienating sections of the audience

The Minister added:
“This research published today is yet another tool in our armory in the fight against prejudice in Scotland. We will examine the findings closely and ensure any key lessons are incorporated into our approach going forward.
“We want Scotland to be a modern, inclusive country where diversity is celebrated. If we are going to achieve this we have to eliminate all forms of hate crime once and for all.”
Dr Duncan Morrow, Chair of the newly created Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion said:
“Hate crime and prejudice, regardless of whether this is violent or expressed through verbal comments and passive behaviours, has a corrosive and damaging effect on individuals and communities. It undermines community cohesion, isolates and alienates individuals and generates fear and mistrust of those who appear to be different from ourselves.
“My previous work with the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland highlighted an enormous desire for change among communities and agencies across Scotland which will allow us to tackle insidious social issues like hate crime in respectful ways.
“I am delighted to have been invited to chair this new Independent Advisory Group and look forward to working with the many committed individuals and organisations who recognise that being truly inclusive is central to all modern and forward looking countries.”
*Dr Duncan Morrow is the director of community engagement at the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at the University of Ulster. He previously chaired the Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism which published its final report back to Ministers in May 2015.
The publication “What works to reduce prejudice? – a review of the evidence” is available here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The architecture of impact: Obtaining reparations for indigenous survivors of 'Indian' residential schools

In the first of the occasional seminars series 'Conversations with leaders in impact' hosted by IRISS, researchers were treated to a master-class by Professor Kathleen Mahoney.

Professor Mahoney is one of Canada's most respected socio-legal scholars who has been at the forefront of efforts to obtain redress for survivors of 'Indian' residential schools.

In her presentation Professor Mahoney looked at the complex social architecture that translates robust research into meaningful impact that helps delivers social justice.

At the heart of her approach were a number of core pillars:

  1. Rigorous, interdisciplinary research that provides a solid evidence base for action.
  2. Coalitions of academics who can stand behind the research and defend it in the face of official resistance.
  3. Carefully constructed civil society coalitions who can collaborate in research design, and can mobilise behind the recommendations.
  4. Organising conferences and workshops that build bridges and bonds between diverse social networks.
  5. Strategic interventions that apply pressure to state-actors, using a range of formal and informal levers, such as litigation.
  6. Expectation management - ensuring all stakeholders are aware of what is achievable in the circumstances. 
Professor Mahoney's intimate portrait of a profoundly successful indigenous struggle for redress, brought home the important role collective action plays in mobilising forms of social capital that can successfully shift the political terrain, bringing about sea changes in state policy. It also demonstrated that strong social relationships and civic duty are the glue that keep these networks together in the face of official resistance.

IRISS' next seminar from this series will feature Professor Jill Manthorpe (King's College, London). 
In this session Prof Jill Manthorpe will draw on lessons for Social Work and related research from Research Exercise Frameworks and similar systems to consider how research can evidence it is useful, usable and used. Jill will provide examples of 'building blocks' to impact and illustrate the value of looking in retrospect to what made differences to policy and practice.

It will take place on  27 October, Room 3A02a, (video conf room MC114 Magee & room H215 Coleraine) 10.15-11:45.

Colleagues can RSVP for this event by emailing Deborah Coey:  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Australia’s aid policy and Papua New Guinea: Tackling cultures of corruption

Introductory Statement to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 22 September 2015
Dr Kristian Lasslett

Ulster's Dr Kristian Lasslett offers policy advice to the Australian government drawing on his research into corruption with the International State Crime Initiative. 
The concern that my colleagues and I have with respect to Australia’s aid policy in Papua New Guinea, is that it is strongly driven by ideology and lacks a firm grounding in the empirical reality of PNG. In short, Australia’s current strategy appears to accept that aid should be directed towards creating policies and infrastructure that would make PNG a more attractive environment for business, which in turn will create the levels of growth and income essential to the country’s human development goals.
However, this aspiration needs to be tempered with a much greater acknowledgement of the market distorting factors currently operating in Papua New Guinea, which the private sector is deeply enmeshed within, rather than a remedy to.
The reality is regardless of the sector you want to name, many businesses have no intention on providing goods and services at a price that would be dictated by a healthy functioning market economy. Rather, businesses are supplying goods and services in order to charge exorbitant prices that in effect defraud the Papua New Guinea government and Papua New Guinea citizens of their finite revenues. These contracts, projects, services and goods frequently contravene the Public Finance (Management) Act, the Criminal Code, the Land Act, the Investment Promotion Authority Act and various other laws, with impunity.
For example, we have seen numerous Commissions of Inquiry launched in Papua New Guinea, led by esteemed members of the judiciary, which have reached damning conclusions about the cultures of corruption currently pervading the private and public sector.
Most recently, the Commission of Inquiry into Special Agricultural and Business Leases concluded, and I quote: ‘With corrupt government officials from implementing agencies riding shotgun for them, opportunistic loggers masquerading as agro-forestry developers are prowling our countryside, scoping opportunities to take advantage of gullible landowners and desperate for cash clan leaders’.
Of similar concern, a Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance found that the legal industry in Papua New Guinea was working hand in glove with state officials to settle out of court vexatious claims, for many of millions of dollars, with the proceeds being shared among the criminal conspirators.
And before that inquiry, we had the well-known Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund, which in this case uncovered criminal conspiracies to defraud workers of their superannuation. Corporate managers, private sector consultants and government officials were all involved, a number of whom have been found guilty of misappropriation under the Criminal Code and sentenced to prison.
If we turn our attention to the often judicious reporting provided by the Public Accounts Committee and Auditor General’s Office we find similarly damning conclusions. For example, following an inquiry into the Department of Lands and Physical Planning, the Public Accounts Committee concluded in 2007, and I quote again: ‘The Department of Lands and Physical Planning has become an arm of private enterprise [who is] responsible for allocating Leases regardless of the Law and to the very considerable cost of the State and the citizens of Papua New Guinea’.
So it might be said, in contrast to the thrust of Australia’s aid policy, Papua New Guinea does not suffer from a lack of private sector involvement, it suffers from a surplus of private sector involvement, which has led to a breakdown of functioning markets, massive price distortion, misallocation of resources, misappropriation on a grand scale and grave human rights abuses, particularly in the extractive industries. And I should emphasise here, Australian businesses are heavily involved in the graft and abuse.
So at present Australia’s aid policy places the cart before the horse. Serious attention needs to be devoted to the delivery of aid in ways that can build capacity and environments that rid both the private and public sector of these pervasive cultures of corruption and lawlessness, that lead to misappropriation, price distortion and human rights abuse. This will require a significant investment in civil society, a sector which can legitimately claim to be desperately underfunded and weak. It is our experience that a strong civil society helps keep the public and private sector to account, in a way that can support both human development goals and markets that are more responsive to consumer needs and human rights.
This agenda will demand significant aid investment in education and capacity building at all levels, it will also require the development of new and meaningful connections with different elements of civil society, ranging from NGOs through to higher education institutions and the media. And of course, there is a deep reservoir of experience within the Auditor General’s Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Ombudsman Commission that could be drawn on. All in all, it will require an extensive process of consultation, which is sensitive to the genuine efforts being made within the PNG government to address these issues.
In our submission to the committee, the International State Crime Initiative has attempted to the sketch some ideas for constructive paths forward that can create the type of context and environment which will ensure future investment and private sector involvement aids human development, good governance and human rights objectives, rather than hinders them. And I should emphasise these suggestions and reflections are built off over a decade of trenchant research into the criminal forms of misappropriation and human rights abuses, which I noted earlier.  Thank you.
* The International State Crime Initiative’s submission to the Senate Committee can be downloaded via this link

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Research Graduate School Events Committee holds first event 'ask an academic'

Ulster PhD student Danielle Roberts discusses the exciting menu of events being organised by post-graduate researchers in social sciences at UU, beginning with a rich account of their first event for 2015/16, 'Ask an Academic'.

Recently the Research Graduate School (RGS) PhD events committee held the first of a programme of events which will aim to facilitate the development of necessary skills to complete a PhD in a collaborative peer to peer setting. We hope to attract a diverse range of post-graduate students from the disciplines related to the RGS, across all Ulster University campuses to forge a supportive post graduate network.

Our first event was entitled ‘Ask an Academic’. We were lucky enough to have three academics volunteer to take the hotseat, Jackie Reilly; Head of the Research Graduate School in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Dr Markus Ketola; Lecturer, School of Criminology Politics & Social Policy, and  Dr Anne Moorhead; Lecturer in Health and Interpersonal Communication. Each academic gave us an overview of their route into academia. Their experiences were all different and demonstrated how every post-graduate will have an individual story to tell as we progress in our chosen field.  The floor was then open for questions.

Key points coming out of the Q and A session were the importance of time management, the benefits of publishing and encouragement to take up opportunities that are provided during the course of PhD study. The importance of managing competing demands on one’s time was discussed. The benefits of using lists and diaries were extolled, however the need to remain flexible is also important. All of us will have demands outside of our PhD and it is important that we can work in a way that lets us have a work/life balance. Quantifiable goals can be a useful way to keep motivation up and work progressing – for example set a target of a number of words to write or articles to read in a day, and tick off your list when you have completed the tasks! Publications are important as a way of getting your name out there, and demonstrating that you are capable to potential employers. What is appropriate in terms of publishing is different for everyone, so PhD candidates should speak to their supervisors for guidance. Opportunities should be seized! Conferences can be used to develop public speaking skills and meet research collaborators, make the most of them.

There was also some discussion of ‘what next?’, when the PhD is over. It was suggested that while working towards completion, you should check out advertisements for jobs you may be interested in and work towards developing the skills to meet the requirements of the post. It was also noted that we should think outside the box, all the academics had moved between subject areas by applying transferable skills such as teaching experience or methodological approach. There are also jobs outside of academia to consider. Just because you are doing a PhD doesn’t mean that you are pigeon holed into one discipline or career path.

The ‘Ask an Academic’ gave us a chance to hear some practical tips about completing a PhD, as well chance to catch up with other PhD students over lunch which was kindly provided by the RGS. Our next event will be in October. Entitled #PhDChat we will be outlining key milestones in each year of the PhD process. We will have people who have just completed first and second year, as well as someone who has just graduated, for you to pick their brains. In November we will have a ‘Digital Swap Meet’ where we will discuss how to efficiently use online resources, for example organisational tools and social media. Alongside these skills sharing sessions we also have a monthly Critical Neoliberalism Reading Group (contact for more information) and plans for an interdisciplinary post graduate conference are underway.

The aim of the RGS PhD events is to provide an informal setting where PhD students and academics from across the faculties and campus can meet up to share skills and best practice, as well as a bit of social time. In future we will hopefully have video links set up so people at other campuses can easily take participate; we will also have events at the Coleraine and Belfast Campuses.

If you are interested in joining the RGS PhD events committee please get in touch with us. 

The current committee members are Ciara Fitzpatrick (; Alexandra Chapman ( and Danielle Roberts ( We would love to hear from you!