By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The IRA says it has located the graves of nine of the so-called disappeared — people who were murdered and secretly buried by paramilitaries over the last 20 years, most of them in the 1970s.
Just before the IRA announcement was made Monday to news organizations in Belfast, a Department of Justice statement in Dublin said that the government would grant immunity from prosecution to people whose evidence helped recover the bodies of the IRA victims and the British government was willing to do the same.
The IRA statement came as the taoiseach and the British prime minister were starting intensive talks in Belfast on the peace process and were holding a series of meetings aimed at breaking the impasse on decommissioning.
Bertie Ahern welcomed the statement ,saying it was "humane and helpful."
The IRA leadership said the secret burials had taken place before an army council directive that bodies should be left for relatives to bury. While not apologizing for the "executions," the IRA said it was sorry its investigation had taken so long and caused "prolonged anguish" to the families of the victims.
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The IRA set up a special unit to locate the graves 18 months ago and the statement said that its investigation has been completed and the families have been told.
"We are sorry that this has taken so long to resolve and for the prolonged anguish caused to their families," the IRA said in a statement.
Included among the list of nine is the body of Jean McConville, whose daughter Helen has led the campaign to find the graves of the "disappeared."
But the IRA list does not include SAS Capt. Robert Nairac, who was killed by the IRA and whose body, it is believed, was destroyed.
The IRA statement read, in part: "Eighteen months ago we established a special unit under the command of one of our most senior officers to ascertain the whereabouts of a number of people executed and buried by Oglaigh na hEireann approximately 20 years ago.
"These burials took place prior to an Army Council directive that the body of anyone killed by Oglaigh na hEireann should be left for burial by their relatives. This issue has caused incalculable pain and distress to a number of families over a period of many years.
"We believe we have established the whereabouts of the graves of nine people, some of whom were members of Oglaigh na hEireann who were executed for activities which put other Oglaigh na hEireann personnel at risk or jeopardized the struggle. . . . We are not responsible for all those previously listed in the media as having gone missing over the last 30 years. We are responsible for those we have acknowledged today and their families have all been notified"
It’s understood the nine people involved are: Seamus Wright, Belfast, killed 1972; Kevin McKee, Belfast, 1972; Eamon Molloy, Belfast, 1975; Jean McConville, Belfast, 1972; Columba McVeigh, Tyrone, 1975; Brendan Megraw, Belfast, 1978; John McClory, Belfast, 1978; Brian McKinney, Belfast, 1978, and Danny McIlhone, Belfast, 1981.
The INLA, meanwhile, is said to be cooperating with the French authorities to recover the remains of Seamus Ruddy, 33, from Newry, who was murdered and secretly buried near Rouen in May 1995.
Justice Minister John O’Donoghue welcomed the "genuine efforts" being made to locate the graves.
"The government fully recognizes the long suffering of the families involved and their overwhelming desire that the bodies be located so that the funerals of their loved ones can finally take place," O’Donoghue said.
"Against this background, the government is prepared to facilitate a process in relation to the locating of the remains through introducing legislation to the effect that evidence resulting from that process could not be used in the prosecution of offenses."