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SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

In December 2019, a new research report and connected strategy called ‘Building Community Resilience’, carried out by Dr Jonny Connolly of the Centre for Crime, Justice and Victim Studies, School of Law, UL identifies the nature and reach of key criminal networks within Dublin South Central. The report documents the intimidation, stress, and fear that pockets of communities living in the areas most connected to the networks are experiencing.  While the report finds that only a small number of people (estimated at under 2% between the ages of 12 and 40) are involved in criminal and anti-social behaviour, their actions are having a continuing corrosive and damaging impact on a far greater number. The ground-breaking research forms the evidential basis for a new strategy, of the same name, which completely re-thinks and upends more conventional responses to criminal and anti-social behaviour.   The new research and strategy was commissioned by the four local policing forums (4Forums) across Dublin South Central.

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A report by researchers based at University of Limerick presented to a United Nations Committee has said that the Irish State is failing to meet its obligations in relation to hate crime. The Hate and Hostility Research Group (HHRG) at University of Limerick (UL) was asked by the Coalition Against Hate Crime to write an alternative report for the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the issue of hate crime and related matters. Presenting to the committee on its findings at the United Nations in Geneva, the HHRG, led by Dr Jennifer Schweppe and Dr Amanda Haynes of UL, along with Dr Sindy Joyce, said that most previous recommendations by the committee have not been implemented by the Irish State. Dr Sindy Joyce stated: “Ireland, and its police, are wilfully ignoring racial profiling, which is highlighted in the fact that children as young as four years of age were entered onto the Garda Pulse system and given criminal tag numbers.”

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A new executive leadership programme jointly devised by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and University of Limerick seeks to devise new ways of addressing wicked problems. Wicked problems are those problems which are resistant to change, morph over time, turn would-be ideal solutions into worse problems and are the ones that persist; no-go zones in urban areas, serious drug related activity and lack of pro-social leadership in communities devastated by routine criminal activity are examples. Large scale evidence-based programmes tip away at the edges of wicked problems. Wicked problems severely expose the silos of the state, refusing to be bound by the administrative remit of one state agency or the other. Most significant of all wicked problems tend to be context specific. The executive programme designed by Professor Sean Redmond and Dr John Bamber selects a group of key leaders fulfilling a wide range of roles in each locality, exposes the group to the latest thinking on addressing complex harms and facilitates the group through a rigorous process of problem-centred programme design.

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Whichcandidate.ie aims to help voters decide on polling day in the general election. It is the brainchild of Dr Rory Costello, a lecturer in the Politics and Public Administration department at UL, who specialises in electoral and legislative politics. The web-based, not-for-profit Voting Advice Application (VAA) aims to inform voters about the policy positions of candidates. Dr Costello explained that it is “a tool that’s designed to try and help voters make an informed decision.” The website was piloted for the 2014 local elections locally in Limerick and then nationally for the 2016 general election, when it was used by over 100,000 voters. It ran  for the European elections across all constituencies in Ireland. "Today people are paying more attention to party policies than they used to, and this is particularly true for younger voters. They want to know what the party’s position is on issues that they care about, it might be climate change, or it might be housing. “Issues have always been important, but they play an ever more important role in how people vote. It is not only issues, also image, personality, all of that also plays an increasingly important role in shaping how people vote’ he added.

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How do we ensure our government, and its policies are informed by the needs of our citizens? How do we encourage our citizens to become active participants in forming the policies which affect their future? These are questions which researchers at the University of Limerick are working to answer. Dr Maura Adshead together with Dr Chris McInerney of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, UL have led the development of innovative practice in the area of policy research and civic engagement. Our research finds ways to enable ordinary people to express their opinions and influence policy formulation and implementation. Dr Adshead explains: “Best practice suggests that all policy should be evidence based but policy-makers rarely have access to those whom policy most affects. With the exception of a few focus groups or opinion polls, it is often hard for policy makers and politicians to know what really works ‘on the ground’. Our research finds ways to enable ordinary people to express their opinions and influence policy formulation and implementation more effectively”. Their research has made an impact on public policy and planning projects such as the Clare Immigrant Strategy and the Ennis 2020 Community Visioning and Participatory Planning Initiative. In the Ennis 2020 initiative the UL research team developed a process that would enable deeper engagement between residents of the town and its council to imaging a vision of the community’s future. Dr McInerney added; “Our research has shown us that a policy of ensuring the voice of the people is heard leads to greater citizen engagement, and ultimately strong civic pride and better communities. The Ennis 2020 project is an excellent example of research policy and practice being applied and leading to greater citizen to Council engagement and ultimately building towards a better future.” This work has informed the training of public administration officials at a national and local level and has been applied in a number of communities including migrants and asylum seekers. Dr Maura Adshead and Dr Chris McInerney are Lecturers in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Limerick. This research is supported by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Irish Aid.

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