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Using the Law to Secure Social Change on the Island of Ireland

Resource type: Research Report

University College Cork and Queen's University Belfast |

This report discusses lessons Atlantic grantees have learned about using the law to secure social change in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland (NI). Atlantic’s support for this work began in 2004. Back then, few organizations in ROI or NI had much experience with public interest or strategic litigation.  Through its Reconciliation and Human Rights programs in ROI and NI, Atlantic helped:

  • Increase awareness of the law as a potential for change across the nongovernmental organization sector (NGOs), the judiciary and wider legal professions;
  • Build relevant experience and appetite for public interest work among legal professionals;
  • Build skills to blend effective legal tactics into overall advocacy strategies; and
  • Build the momentum and culture of using the law to secure social change across the island of Ireland.


Among the lessons discussed in the report:

  • Combining strategies of advocacy, legal analysis, education and representation is vital to maximizing the effectiveness of all aspects of the law and legal processes employed.
  • Few activities result in quick fixes and change often takes years and multiple attempts using different strategies to make progress in effecting social change.
  • Connecting grassroots organizations with legal strategies is crucial to successful change.
  • Not all policy issues are best addressed through litigation.
  • Making use of the media can help change public opinion about an issue being litigated.
  • To improve overall advocacy capacity of NGOS, it’s important to help develop specialist expertise in the legal community about how to use the law to advance social issues and develop leaders who can continue to innovate how the law is used. 

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Atlantic commissioned this report.