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Our 32 years of torment searching for Seamus

The remains of Seamus Ruddy, abducted and murdered by the INLA in 1985, were found in a French forest this week. His family and former girlfriend tell their story

Suzanne Breen

Cecilia Moore's boyfriend had been missing for a month in Paris and she was out of her mind with worry. An artist from the Isle of Wight, she was unfamiliar with the intricacies of Northern Irish politics, but the word on the ground was that her lover's disappearance was linked to the INLA.

Seamus Ruddy, a school teacher from Newry, was a former member of its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP).

The 33-year-old had grown disillusioned with the party's leadership and left, moving to the French capital and securing a job teaching English in a private college.

But, when old comrades visiting from Belfast asked to meet him in a bar in Montparnasse in May 1985 he had agreed.

Nobody had seen him since and Cecilia knew something was seriously wrong. When she let it be known that she was going to the police, an INLA man offered to meet her.

"I was told to go to the Pompidou Centre in Paris," she said. "I was instructed to stand at a certain book rack in the library and somebody would approach me."

The man who appeared was S, an INLA man from west Belfast whose name is known to the Belfast Telegraph.

"The meeting lasted 10 minutes," Cecilia recalled. "I asked dozens of questions.

"He said Seamus's disappearance had nothing to do with the INLA and, if I kept making crazy accusations, I'd get them all arrested.

"He was heartless. He saw me as an annoying woman he wanted rid off.

"I was pleading for information. He said Seamus was back in Ireland. I said his passport was still in our Paris apartment. 'Maybe he swam home,' he replied."

In every other case of those disappeared by republican paramilitaries, the horror has unfolded in a border bog or remote Irish mountainside or beach. This time, murder was played out on the bohemian boulevards of Paris's Left Bank and in a forest near a stunning medieval town in Normandy.

Cecilia got nowhere that day with S whom, she later discovered, had been one of her boyfriend's killers. It would be another 32 years before Seamus would be discovered.

Remains uncovered in a dig in Foret Domaniale on the outskirts of Pont-de-l'Arche were identified as his on Wednesday. It was the third dig by a team from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains after unsuccessful searches in 2000 and 2008.

"It's a time of very mixed emotions for me," said Cecilia who now works as a silversmith in Dublin. "It's a huge relief that, after all this time, Seamus can be brought home. But it is also shockingly sad too."

It's eight years, since she first told me the awful story of how her boyfriend disappeared without trace.

Seamus Ruddy was the youngest boy in a Newry family of nine. As a teenager he was involved in civil rights protests. He was attracted to the socialist People's Democracy and sold its paper.

He frequented a local bookshop, devouring Left-wing literature. He wore glasses from an early age which led to friends nicknaming him 'The Professor'.

After politics, music was his great passion. He had an eclectic taste which included The Chieftains, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix and Thin Lizzy.

He was a close friend of Protestant INLA leader Ronnie Bunting. In 1979, Seamus was arrested smuggling weapons across the Greek/Turkish border. He was later acquitted of the charges.

He was a high-profile figure during the 1981 hunger strike, visiting the H-Blocks and briefing journalists. Two years later, he left the IRSP, writing a deeply critical resignation letter.

His brother Terry said that Seamus saw himself as an international revolutionary. "He had joined the IRSP because he saw the Provos as right-wing Catholic Holy Joes. But he didn't like where the IRSP/INLA was heading - it was a far cry from his ideals," he said.

Although no longer an IRSP member, Seamus still "lived and breathed politics", Cecilia recalled. "He organised the other teachers in the Paris college where he taught into a union," she said.

"He started an Irish Cultural Association. He held Irish language and dancing nights. He established a newsletter for Irish people in Paris. He was active in the campaign to support the British miners' strike."

A fortnight before Seamus disappeared, his sister Anne Morgan - then a teacher in Newry High School - took her pupils on a trip to Paris.

"The driver didn't know his way around so Seamus boarded the bus and guided our tour," Anne said.

"The Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe, Notre Dame, we did it all. At night, Seamus laughed at us trying to eat frogs' legs. We spent a wonderful evening in a cafe in Rue Saint-Denis. I treasure those photographs."

In May 1985, Cecilia was working away from Paris and Seamus was living on his own in their apartment. He was asked to meet three INLA members - chief of staff John O'Reilly, Peter 'Dunter' Stewart and S in the bar in Montparnasse.

He was nervous about the meeting but M - an IRSP member living in Paris whom he regarded as a friend - guaranteed his safety.

It is understood that he left the bar with the INLA men and travelled 100 miles to the forest near Pont-de-l'Arche.

Republican sources told the Belfast Telegraph that he was tied to a tree, questioned at gunpoint and then shot. His murder was linked to an INLA power struggle. John O'Reilly wanted access to all the organisation's arms dumps and smuggling routes to strengthen his hand against a rival faction which later became the IPLO.

O'Reilly concluded that Seamus was withholding information from him and had him killed. Cecilia started receiving concerned telephone calls from friends saying they hadn't seen her boyfriend in days. She returned to Paris.

"A box of letters and two cameras were missing from the apartment - they would have contained evidence of people Seamus had met or communicated with," she said.

Friends told her they'd seen M leaving the apartment. He had a key. She wondered how he'd got it. "I went to see him. He was very guarded. I said I was going to the police," she said.

Back home in Newry, Seamus's family begged local IRSP members for help. "It was hell," said Terry Ruddy. "We travelled the country asking (people) to meet us. An arrangement would be made, then cancelled. They'd say the Brits were raiding houses or give some other excuse."

Then, French police made contact to say children had found a black bag, weighed down by stones, which had been washed up from the Seine. They believed it contained Seamus's clothes.

John O'Reilly, who had ordered Seamus's murder, told them that if they travelled to Paris to inspect the clothes, they'd be killed. Despite the death threat, the family went.

They were shown a jacket with two bullet holes in the hood, blood-stained jeans and DM boots. Anne knew immediately that they were her brother's. He'd been wearing those very clothes on their evening in the Rue Saint Denis a fortnight before he disappeared.

Back home, the situation deteriorated further for the family. The INLA met them in the home of a west Belfast priest. "We were told if we kept asking questions about Seamus, or talking to the media, then we'd be killed," said Anne.

"I was terrified for myself and my children. I'd look under the car for bombs before I drove to school."

Terry Ruddy said: "I was working in Dublin. Whenever a motorbike pulled up beside me in traffic, I'd think somebody was going to shoot me."

Only Cecilia wasn't afraid.

"I kept on at the IRSP. I must have written them hundreds of letters. I was never frightened," she said.

"They'd taken away the most important person in my life, what else was there to lose?"

It was 1995 before the INLA admitted killing Seamus. "We all knew he was dead long before then, except my mother," said Anne. "She would put a chair by the front window, where she had a good view of the street, and she would sit waiting for him to turn the corner.

"She waited every day for 10 years. After they admitted killing him, she died within months."

Anne was forced to give up her career as a teacher. "I just couldn't cope with work and searching for my brother so I left my job to concentrate on him," she said.

Of Seamus's three killers, only S is alive. John O'Reilly was shot dead by the IPL0 in 1987 and Peter 'Dunter' Stewart died of cancer. S, who once faced a murder charge in the Republic but was acquitted, still lives in Belfast. The searches for Seamus's body were based on his information.

He made several trips to the forest at Pont de l'Arche. Senior IRSP member Willie Gallagher - who played no role in the abduction or murder - liaised with the Ruddys for over a decade and also travelled to France.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, he described Seamus's secret burial as "unjustifiable". "Anne phoned me just after her brother's remains had been found," he said.

"I could hear the joy in her voice and I was so delighted for the family. They hit so many brick walls over the years. The right information was given for the previous digs, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack."

Anne doesn't know when her brother's body will be released and brought back to Newry. "I'm dreading the sight of his coffin, yet I'm delighted he will be coming home at last," she said.

"For years, whenever a body was found on a border road, we'd pray it was Seamus. Imagine a family wishing for that? It showed just how desperate we were."

Every year, on Seamus's birthday, Cecilia Moore has visited the forest near Pont de L'Arche. Now she will have a grave to visit. "I found it hard to move on with life," she said.

"It was difficult meeting new people. 'My boyfriend disappeared' is a conversation stopper. I met plenty of men over the years, but nobody ever replaced Seamus."

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