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Disappeared victim's family appeal for last bit of information in their search

Published 02/11/2016

Columba McVeigh, from Dungannon, was kidnapped in 1975 (Family handout/PA)
Columba McVeigh, from Dungannon, was kidnapped in 1975 (Family handout/PA)

The family of Disappeared victim Columba McVeigh say they need just one last piece of information to find his remains.

Choking back tears as she laid a wreath on the steps of Stormont, Dympna Kerr pleaded for someone to help end their 41 years of torment.

She said: "It is hurtful.

"We have had information and we have had digs but there is something missing.

"All we want is somebody to just make that phone call and give us that last little bit of information."

Columba McVeigh, from Co Tyrone, was kidnapped in Dublin in November 1975.

Despite extensive searches at Bragan Bog in Co Monaghan, including a five- month excavation in 2013, his body has never been found.

Ms Kerr added: "Forty one years ago on Halloween night Columba was taken out of a pub in Dublin.

"And that's it, he has never been seen since.

"It is the not knowing that is the worst. Everybody has lost a close relative in their life - you grieve them and bury them and then you move on with your life. But we can't move on because we haven't buried him yet.

"If he was buried it would bring some completeness.

"We just want to get the last bit of crucial information over to the people who will do the dig and go out and find him.

"We want a Christian burial for him in the grave with my mum and dad. That was my mum's wish."

Ms Kerr was among dozens of Disappeared relatives who took part in the annual All Souls' Day silent walk to remember the 17 people who were abducted, killed and secretly buried by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles.

The solemn procession and wreath laying ceremony, now in its 10th year, aims to highlight the cases of those still to be found.

They walked from Carson's Statue to the steps of Parliament Buildings where Ms Kerr laid a black wreath, with attached white lilies representing those still missing.

Among the sombre crowd walking in the autumnal sunshine were some of the 10 children of Jean McConville, who was snatched from her home in Divis flats in 1972.

The sisters of Brian McKinney who vanished in 1978 also took part for the first time.

Their mother Margaret, now 84 and too frail to walk, first raised the plight of the disappeared when she met US president Bill Clinton at the White House in 1998.

A transcript of a telephone conversation between Clinton and the then prime minister Tony Blair released earlier this year revealed the former president had been so moved by her story that he pushed for the Disappeared to be key focus for the peace process.

Mr McKinney's remains were found in Co Monaghan in 1999.

Linda Pywell, who travelled from England for the event, said it was important to continue the campaign for those who have yet to be found.

She said: "I know their families' first thoughts every morning are "will today be the day?"

"So, we are definitely here to support them and will continue to do so. Mum is in failing health and is unable to take part but I will be happy to come over."

Of the 17 Disappeared victims, some 13 have been recovered by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains (ICLVR) - a body set up by the British and Irish governments during the peace process.

As well as Columba McVeigh, the remains of Seamus Ruddy, cistercian monk Joe Lynskey and SAS-trained Captain Robert Nairac have not yet been located.

Last June Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright were found in a shallow grave in Coghalstown, Co Meath.

An inquest into their deaths is due to be held in Dublin later this month.

In an address ahead of the walk, Kieran Megraw, whose brother Brendan was found in 2014, stressed the importance of the annual walk.

He said: "For many years we held out little hope that we would be able to lay our brother Brendan to rest. Thanks to the dedication of the ICVLR and to the person or persons who provided the final piece of information we were finally able to bring Brendan home for a Christian burial to the family grave.

"It is impossible to over-estimate the impact on the families of having their mother or father, brother or uncle taken from them in this way.

"If we have learned anything about dealing with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland it is that time and mortality will not resolve it."

Meanwhile Geoff Knupfer, who leads the ICLVR investigations, said work was continuing on all four outstanding cases.

"We are hopeful that in the future we will recover some if not all the victims in the outstanding cases but we can't do that without help and I would appeal to anybody who has information on these cases to get in touch because we can't do it alone.

"We rely entirely on information," he said.

They are also working with the French authorities in the hope of returning to the country to conduct more searches for the remains of Mr Ruddy, he said.

"We are also pursuing lines of enquiry in relation to the other three," added Mr Knupfer.

"We would hope that one day we achieve success."

Anyone with information about the Disappeared should contact the ICLVR's confidential telephone number on 00800 5558 5500 or write to them on ICLVR, PO BOX, 10827, Dublin 2.

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