By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — With Sinn Fein aiming to capitalize on its role in the peace process in the local and Euro elections next week, the legacy of the so-called “disappeared” IRA murder victims has come back to haunt the party as it tries to build a wider democratic presence.
Distraught relatives, the gruesome task of Garda exhumation teams and the inevitable high-profile and emotional funerals that will follow are set to dominate the media agenda in the run up to the June 11 ballot.
The reemergence of the ghosts of IRA “punishments” dating back to 1972 — which the IRA denied for many years — will also focus attention on other still unresolved aspects of the 30 years of violence.
While the IRA has supplied information to recover nine victims and the INLA has supplied a grave location for one, the remains of others — now being called the “forgotten” disappeared — remains outstanding. Who killed them and where are they buried?
Also unresolved are the fate of the exiled — those people who have fled Northern Ireland after paramilitary threats. Will they receive amnesty in the same way as the paramilitary prisoners who are being released from prisons North and South?
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These are uncomfortable questions in the middle of a political campaign south of the border as it emerges that the disappeared were not buried under road and residential developments in the North, as had been thought, but were dumped in graves in counties Louth, Monaghan, Meath and Wicklow.
Superintendent John Farrelly has warned that the searches will take time. Of the six sites identified, four are bogland, one is in a forest and one is a beachside parking lot. DNA tests and dental records will be used to make positive identifications.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams hoped the recovery of the bodies would “be the end of this very long period of distress.” He regretted the injustice that had been done to the families.
Dungannon priest Father Denis Faul said that if the digging continues for a week or two, “people are going to get very, very angry and disgusted with the IRA and their representatives.”
The first body to emerge is believed to be that of Eamonn Molloy, a 21-year-old who vanished from Belfast’s Ardoyne area in 1975 after being accused of being an informer. It was claimed he was a quartermaster in one of the IRA’s three Belfast brigades
His family suffered a double blow in the Troubles as his 18-year-old brother, Anthony, was murdered by UVF gunmen.
Molloy was among the nine named by the IRA in a statement on the eve of the Hillsborough summit in March. The handover of details of the locations of the secret graves was delayed while the Dail and Westminster parliaments passed legislation granting partial immunity to the killers. No forensic evidence will be collected from the bodies.
A Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains was to be formally established by the British and Irish governments on May 28 but, just hours before, two priests acting as IRA intermediaries walked into Dundalk Garda station.
As a result, a new coffin containing what are believed to be Molloy’s remains was found lying above ground in Old Faughert graveyard a short distance south of the Louth-Armagh border. The remains had been dug up from a secret location elsewhere.
Within hours, the freshly appointed commissioner for the Republic, former Fianna Fail Tanaiste John Wilson, said intermediaries were supplying further grave locations to them.
Wilson said the commission is being “particularly sensitive” about informing the relatives.
All the remains will be brought to Dublin for formal identification and trauma counseling will be made available for relatives in Store Street Garda station next door to the City Morgue.
“The stress and strain and angst that developed as a result of not being able to get the remains of loved ones and give them proper and respectful burial, that angst has been unbelievable,” Wilson said.
Asked about other missing victims of the violence, Wilson said he “thought” there would be “other revelations” about some of them.
McConville body next?
It was to take two days, however, before the location of another grave emerged when gardai sealed off a beachside parking lot near Carlingford, Co. Louth.
It is thought to be the location for the remains of Jean McConville, 37, from Belfast, who disappeared in March 1972 after being abducted from her home. At that time the beachside parking lot did not exist.
A mother of 10 from Divis Flats, she was born a Protestant but converted to Catholicism when she married. It has been suggested that one of the reasons she was killed was because she tended a British wounded near the flats.
Her daughter Helen McKendry and her son-in-law Seamus McKendry have been leading figures in the Families of the Disappeared groups, which has campaigned for the return of the remains.
Other locations have been pointed out to gardai and two of them may be double graves.
One double grave in bogland at Colgagh, Co. Monaghan, is thought to contain the remains of John McClory, 17, and Brian McKinney, 23, from Belfast, who disappeared in 1978.
Both men left their homes in Andersonstown to go to work in May 25 but neither arrived. They had been abducted by the IRA a week earlier and questioned about an armed robbery and were released. They were then kidnapped a week later.
It is alleged that McClory was accused of stealing IRA weapons. It is claimed he was shot while attempting to escape or died as a result of a botched punishment shooting. It is claimed that McKinney was killed as he had witnessed the murder of McClory.
Another double grave at Coghalstown Wood, near Navan, Co. Meath, may contain Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee, both from Belfast, who were murdered in 1972. They were accused of being informers.
Other remains to be exhumed are:
€ Columba McVeigh, 17, from County Tyrone, who was abducted and murdered in 1975 after being accused of informing. His remains are believed to be buried in bogland at Carrigroe near Emyvale, Co. Monaghan.
€ Brendan McGraw, 24, from West Belfast, who was abducted in 1978 after being accused of being an informer. He is believed to be buried in Oristown Bog near Kells, Co. Meath.
€ Danny McIlhone, from Belfast, said to have been murdered for allegedly stealing weapons in 1981. He is believed to be buried on mountainside bog at Lacken near Blessington, Co. Wicklow.
The INLA, meanwhile, has supplied a location for the secret grave of Seamus Ruddy, 33, a teacher from Newry who was buried in France after being murdered in 1986. His remains have yet to be found despite an extensive search of forested areas near Rouen.
The “forgotten” disappeared include:
€ Charlie Armstrong, 57, from Crossmaglen, a father of five who never returned after going to Mass in August 1981. His car was later seen in Dundalk.
€ Gerry Evans, 24, from Crossmaglen, who went to a dance in Castleblaney in March 1979 and never returned.
€ Sean Murphy, 25, from Cregganduff, South Armagh, who vanished when he was on his way to visit his girlfriend.
€ John McIlroy, who disappeared from Andersonstown in Belfast in 1974
€ Capt. Robert Nairac, 29, a British army intelligence officer who vanished in South Armagh after leaving Bessbrook army camp in May 1977.
June 2-8, 1999