Ulster Researchers at the Socio-Legal Studies Association Conference 2021, Cardiff University

Researchers from the School of Law, Ulster University Law Clinic and the Transitional Justice Institute presented their research at the annual Socio-Legal Studies Association annual conference, which this year was hosted entirely online by Cardiff University.


Dr Mark Simpson and Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, alongside Dr Jed Meers (University of York) are co-convenors of the now well-established ‘Social Rights, Citizenship and the Welfare State’ stream at the conference, which had almost a full schedule of excellent papers. It hosted three papers from Ulster researchers Professor Grainne McKeever, Dr Mark Simpson, Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick and Dr Charles O’Sullivan:

Welfare rights in theory and practice

In their co-authored paper on ‘Welfare rights in theory and practice’, Professor Gráinne McKeever and Dr Mark Simpson explore the grey areas inhabited by welfare rights.

These can be understood as human rights or rights of citizenship, high-level principles or individual entitlements, include procedural and substantive rights and are closely connected to other categories of rights.

The authors consider the ongoing vulnerability to roll-back of welfare rights, despite their importance to wellbeing and social cohesion.

The state of the social union

Dr Mark Simpson also presented a paper on ‘The state of the social union’ previews some of the findings of his forthcoming book on social citizenship under devolution in the UK. It considers the extent to which the emergence of (thus far limited) devolved-level divergence in social security marks a definitive shift from a single UK welfare state to multiple sub-national welfare states designed to reflect different needs or ideological preferences.

Comparing Social Security Provision in the North and South of Ireland: Past Developments and Future Challenges

In their co-authored paper ‘Comparing Social Security Provision in the North and South of Ireland: Past Developments and Future Challenges’, Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick and Dr Charles O’Sullivan focus on the post-Brexit landscape in the north and south of Ireland, specifically the increased discussions on the possibilities associated with the reunification of Ireland.

This paper sets the scene for future conversations on the development of an all-Ireland social welfare system. It is clear that the respective systems have more in common than which divide them; creating both opportunities and challenges which must be given adequate thought and attention in preparation for a potential border poll.

PhD researcher contribution

PhD researchers Danielle Gallagher and Leah Rea also participated in this year’s conference. Danielle joined the ‘Law, Culture and the Humanities’ stream, with Leah presenting in the ‘Equality and Human Rights’ stream.

The Password is Fortitude' - 'Aesthetic Acts'

In Gallagher’s paper ‘The Password is Fortitude' - 'Aesthetic Acts’ engendering transitional justice values in Violet Needham’s Stormy Petrel series’ Danielle Gallagher explored the idea of reading children's literature through a transitional justice lens to highlight the aims, values, and characteristics of transitional justice embodied in the central character(s).

The intention of this was two-fold:

  1. historical: to argue that it may be possible to link early reading material to the development of (transitional) justice values in those who go on to work in the broader field, and
  2. pedagogical: to lay building blocks for devising/creating future works which can assist with the development of holistic justice-oriented aims and values in those growing up in a post-conflict context.

Conventions as practice, conventions as barriers: examining the relationship between constitutional conventions relating to devolution and the progression of human rights standards in Northern Ireland

In Rea’s paper ‘Conventions as practice, conventions as barriers: examining the relationship between constitutional conventions relating to devolution and the progression of human rights standards in Northern Ireland’ it is argued that successive British governments’ adherence to conventions established by historic and contemporary devolution settlements across various stages in the history of Northern Ireland has affected the advancement of human rights standards in Northern Ireland.

Whilst such conventions are necessary to recognise and respect the Executive decision-making and legislative parameters established by the devolution models implemented in Northern Ireland during its existence, in the absence of legislative action by the devolved government to ensure state compliance with international human rights standards, these conventions arguably do not prevent the sitting British Government from undertaking any necessary reform to rectify any lacuna or issues from the UK Parliament.

2022 conference

It is hoped that next year’s conference (2022) will provide the opportunity for researchers to physically congregate to present their research at University of York.

2023 conference

It has recently been announced that Ulster University, Magee Campus will host the SLSA conference in 2023


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