The Republican Movement, 'Disappearing' and Framing the Past in Northern Ireland

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Despite a rich body of research on the conflict and peace process in Northern Ireland, the ‘disappearances’ carried out by Republican armed groups have so far escaped scrutiny. In this article I examine how the Republican movement has framed the rationale behind ‘disappearing’ as a rational response to informing and as an example of historical continuity. In doing so, Republicans appear to attempt to confer legitimacy on their choice of target and normalize the use of the practice within a Republican framework. However, these rationales incorporate techniques of neutralization and attempts to contextualize the ‘disappearances’ in such a way as to distance the Irish Republican Army from agency. Such distancing speaks to a third, overarching rationale for ‘disappearing’: the avoidance of an embarrassment that has continued into the postconflict period. I consider why Republicans persist in claiming the ‘disappeared’ were legitimate targets, killed by a method for which there is historical precedent, when such framing left them open to criticism at a time when they were seeking to demonstrate that they had left violence behind. I conclude that Republican attempts to satisfy two audiences resulted in a gulf between their engagement in the process of recovering remains and their rhetoric surrounding this issue. In so doing, light is shed on some of the challenges the Republican movement faced in their transition away from violence. More broadly, the value of unpicking the framing of key actors in transitional processes is illuminated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-271
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Transitional Justice
Issue number2
Early online date25 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • disappearance
  • framing the past
  • non state armed groups
  • Northern Ireland


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