30 April 2006

New hope for relatives to find the 'disappeared'

Sunday Times

**another missed article

Liam Clarke
April 23, 2006

The lowest point in Anna McShane’s life was standing in the driving rain watching a hired excavator dig fruitlessly for her father’s body. “It was complete misery,” she said, recalling the rats and eels around her feet as the search for Charlie Armstrong continued. Her father left his Crossmaglen home in April 1981 to attend mass and was never seen again.

Now McShane and other families of people murdered and secretly buried during the Troubles in Northern Ireland have called on the Irish and British governments to act swiftly on a new report that has raised hopes the bodies may be found.

The scientific expert who compiled the report met members of the IRA and INLA who were involved in the burials and has recommended a number of measures to progress the search, including the use of new equipment.

The new evidence was provided on the basis of guarantees any information revealed, or forensic traces found on the bodies, would not be used for prosecution purposes.

Eleven people are classified as “disappeared” — 10 of them victims of the IRA and one, Seamus Ruddy, murdered and buried in a Paris park by the INLA. The bodies of four other IRA victims have already been recovered. All the missing bodies, with the exception of Ruddy, are believed to be buried in the republic, many of them in bog land.

“All the families hope there will be a new look at all the areas where digs took place in 1999 and 2000,” said Anne Morgan, Ruddy’s sister. “If they do recommence it will be in a more skilful manner. They will be using new imaging equipment to try and pinpoint the bodies before they dig.”

The report was ordered by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, a joint British-Irish government body. It was delivered to the two governments a fortnight ago having missed previous deadlines in January and March. A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson confirmed that the report had been received. “It contains a number of recommendations which must be considered carefully and which we would want to discuss with the Irish minister for justice,” he said.

McShane and other relatives met Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, Irish government representatives and Mitchell Reiss, President Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland. McShane gave Reiss credit for pressurising the two governments and Sinn Fein to help with the issue. “Both governments and the US authorities have promised we can have any equipment we want,” she said.

Three of the disappeared come from South Armagh and are believed to have been murdered by the IRA even though the organisation has never admitted its involvement.

In addition to McShane’s father, the three include Gerard Evans, who was 24 when last seen hitching a lift between Castleblayney and Crossmaglen on March 27, 1979, and Sean Murphy, who disappeared near Cregganduff in 1986.

McShane, who lives near Crossmaglen, spoke of the culture of fear in the area. She said that nobody had ever admitted any of the South Armagh disappearances. “But there is only the IRA in the area,” she said. “It is not like Belfast where there are different groups. That is why the fear and the oppression is still on the people.

“People wouldn’t even talk about it to this day. ‘Don’t talk, walk away’.”

Vera McVeigh’s son Columba was 17 when last seen alive in October 1975. The IRA initially denied all involvement and she only accepted that he had been murdered when she read their admission in a newspaper. The youth, who had learning difficulties, was branded an informer even though he had never been a member of the IRA.

“It took me 23 and a half years to accept my son was dead,” McVeigh said. “I never believed that the IRA would take a lad of 17 out and shoot him and not notify the parents.”

She added: “I am 82 on June 28 and haven’t many years left. I would like to see Columba buried before I am buried myself.”

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