Grim history as IRA's P O’Neill echoed down the telephone line
The voice on the other end of my phone was one I hadn’t heard for a while — for a number of years now.
That was the last time the IRA’s ‘P O’Neill’ called.
When that organisation left its war stage in 2005 its leadership spokesman went quiet.
That was until yesterday, when he called and asked me to meet him in west Belfast.
It was a familiar routine.
We had coffee at a quiet table, and he read a briefing note to me, which I copied onto three pages.
In the past I met this man many times.
He delivered and dictated IRA statements to me, including when that organisation formally ended its armed campaign in July 2005 and then decommissioned two months later.
The IRA has now gone — its structures dismantled.
So, the man I met yesterday no longer functions as P O’Neill, but he still speaks with all the authority of the republican leadership.
The purpose of this meeting was very specific.
It was matter-of-fact and it was about the disappearance of Joe Lynskey in 1972 — “executed and buried” by the IRA.
Like ghosts the Disappeared still haunt that organisation.
They are a reminder of an ugly, ruthless and violent past.
This particular story goes back almost four decades when the many different wars were at their height, when one killing was followed by another and people got lost as statistics in a mounting death toll.
Those wars may well now be over, but there are questions that relate to the past that still demand answers. Some of those questions were answered in that briefing yesterday — others were not.
We now know the IRA killed Joe Lynskey and disappeared his body — as other bodies were disappeared in that period.
But we don’t know anything about the unmarked grave in which he was buried.
The first time the IRA spoke to me about ‘the Disappeared’ was in 1999, when there was a different P O’Neill.
On that night the IRA leadership said: “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 jeopardised the struggle.”
Some bodies were found — others were not, and the searches go on.
The story of the Disappeared will not go away.
And, yesterday, another page was turned and Joe Lynskey’s name added to a chapter in this conflict that has no end.