Columba McVeigh  Photo: Irish Times

Columba McVeigh Photo: Irish Times

The Bishop of Clogher Dr Liam MacDaid at a special Mass  last night in North Monaghan appealed “in the name of humanity” to anyone with information about where one of the so-called disappeared, Columba McVeigh, is buried to bring it forward to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR).

At the Mass in Carrickroe, near Emyvale, Dr MacDaid urged anyone who might have even a small shred of evidence about where Mr McVeigh was secretly buried to come forward to the Commission and help end the burden the McVeigh family had carried for forty years. Prayers were also said and a candle was lit for Kieran McAree, the Emyvale man who is believed to have gone into the water in Lough Erne in Enniskillen and for whom the search has continued for five weeks.

The Sacred Heart church is a few miles from Bragan mountain, where Mr McVeigh is believed to have been buried after being abducted and murdered by the IRA in November 1975. Four searches, the most recent in September 2013, have been carried out in the bogland since 1999, but Mr McVeigh’s remains have yet to be found. The Commission is hoping former IRA members directly or indirectly involved in the incident would come forward with more specific information to assist in the search.

Family members of the disappeared point to how after an appeal by the Catholic Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith, in September 2013, new information was passed to the Commission. Last October the remains of another of the disappeared, Brendan Megraw, were recovered from Oristown bog in County Meath.

“In the name of humanity and of this community, I would entreat anyone with any information to search their conscience and help bring an end to this suffering,” Bishop MacDaid told the congregation, who included Columba’s brother Oliver and sister Dympna Kerr, as well as other families of the disappeared. Dympna lives at St Helen’s near Liverpool in England and flew over yesterday afternoon to attend.

Frank Murray  Photo: ICLVR

Frank Murray Photo: ICLVR

One of the two Commissioners, Frank Murray, a former Secretary to the Irish government, attended the Mass along with forensic expert Geoff Knupfer, who has led some of the searches carried out by the Commission. Before the service, Mr Murray addressed the congregation. He stressed the independence and confidentiality offered by his office and said anyone who gave information to him was immune from prosecution.

“For almost four decades the McVeigh family have had to bear the pain of the loss of Columba, a pain deepened almost beyond imagination by the fact that they have no grave to tend, no place to grieve,” Bishop MacDaid said.

Oliver McVeigh from Donaghmore in County Tyrone also appealed for anyone with information to bring it forward. “The ICLVR needs more information to narrow down the search area to find Columba, just as they were able to do at Oristown and find Brendan Megraw,” he added. “How can anyone with a shred of humanity about them leave us like this after forty years knowing that they could end our suffering?”

The Chief Executive of the WAVE Trauma Centre in Belfast, Sandra Peake, said the families of the disappeared appreciated the prayers and support of Bishop MacDaid and the wider local community. They will not rest until Columba and all those who have yet to be recovered are returned to their families to bring an end to this cruel torment, she said.

The remains of 11 of the 17 Disappeared have been recovered, including those of Jean McConville from Belfast, whose son Michael attended the Mass along with his wife and daughter. I interviewed Michael at various times as the search was going on for her remains, which were recovered eleven years ago, though it seems a lot less.

The six yet to be recovered are Columba McVeigh; Joe Lynskey, who went missing from Belfast in 1972; Captain Robert Nairac, a British Army officer believed to have been shot dead close to the border in the Louth/South Armagh area in 1977; Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright, who disappeared in 1972 and are believed buried in a bog at Coghalstown, near Wilkinstown in County Meath; and Seamus Ruddy. He was killed in France by the INLA in 1985 during an internal feud and is believed to be buried in a forest near Rouen.

Dympna Kerr and her brother, Oliver McVeigh at the Mass in Carrickroe    Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Dympna Kerr and her brother, Oliver McVeigh, at the Mass in Carrickroe Photo: © Michael Fisher


Speaking at an engagement in Belfast at the University of Ulster, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny has repeated his support for a full public enquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. The well-known solicitor was shot dead by the UFF in front of his family at his home in North Belfast on February 12th 1989. It was one of the murders I reported on during the troubles and this was among the most high-profile cases. Standing beside the police cordon a well-known BBC reporter came over to me and my cameraman and said “you know who it is?”. He then told me it was Pat Finucane. I had interviewed the lawyer a few times, including at a controversial inquest at Craigavon courthouse. According to the BBC’s Political Correspondent Martina Purdy, Mr Kenny said relations between the British and Irish governments had never been closer, but there were areas where there was a difference of opinion. Paying tribute to Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine for the way she has campaigned with “great dignity and courage”, Mr Kenny said he supported her in the campaign for a full public inquiry into the killing.

Patricia McKeown, Alan McBride, Geraldine Finucane

Alan McBride from the WAVE trauma centre in Belfast who lost his wife and father-in-law in the IRA Shankill bombing also spoke about his own experience. He said the past was not going to go away and he supported the Finucane family’s right to have a full public enquiry. Alan also described how on a visit to the United States alongside some republicans, a former IRA man had told him he was sorry for the Shankill bomb and what happened was wrong. He had helped to humanise his loss, he said, and had acknowledged my pain. Former ICTU President Inez McCormack also addressed the meeting. As NI Secretary of UNISON she had helped to set up the handshake in West Belfast between then MP and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and President Mary Robinson in June 1993 at Rupert Stanley College. I remember that occasion as one when the media were kept firmly outside the door in order to ensure that no pictures of the handshake were taken. Yet it was a defining moment in the lead-up to the IRA ceasefire the following year. Here is one account of the occasion from the Independent.
UPDATE: The News Letter reports that the Taoiseach’s comments were strongly criticised by the UUP chair Lord Empey and MLA Danny Kennedy.