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Sunday, May 9, 1999 Published at 03:37 GMT 04:37 UK


Hope for families of 'disappeared'

Seamus Ruddy, Charlie Armstrong, John McClory, Brian McKinney

After years of suffering and anguish, an end could be in sight for the grieving relatives of Northern Ireland's "disappeared".

The Search for Peace
Legislation being rushed through the UK Parliament aims to pave the way for locating the graves of people abducted and killed by paramilitaries over the past 30 years.

The Northern Ireland Location of Victims' Remains Bill will come up for debate in the House of Commons again on Monday.

Crucially, the law will provide immunity from prosecution following any evidence that might arise if and when the bodies are recovered.

BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight looks at the plight of the relatives of the "disappeared"
On paper, it is another tentative step in the peace process, which has become bogged down in the issue of weapons decommissioning.

But for some of the families of those who went missing in the 1970s and early 1980s it represents hope that they might finally lay ghosts to rest.

"Hell; the darkest, darkest corner of Hell," is how Margaret McKinney describes the last 21 years of her life, since her son Brian vanished one spring morning in 1978.

[ image: Brian McKinney: Disappeared 21 years ago]
Brian McKinney: Disappeared 21 years ago
Brian was 22 when he was abducted. He had first gone missing a few days beforehand, but returned 48 hours later, beaten and distraught, and admitting his part in the robbery of an IRA-run bar.

His parents made him give back the money and it seemed the matter had been "resolved".

But when he failed to return hope from work soon after, alarm bells began to ring for Mrs McKinney.

There was no question of calling in the police, so the family just sat and waited. As days turn to months, and months to years, the stress began to take its toll on Mrs McKinney.

[ image: Margaret McKinney: Says her life has been a
Margaret McKinney: Says her life has been a "nightmare"
She has suffered heart attacks and for years would sleep in her son's bed, wrapped in his coat. Frequently she would see the men who had taken Brian, but she remained powerless.

Mrs McKinney can however, take some comfort from the fact that Brian's remains have apparently been pin-pointed by the IRA.

In March the IRA issued a statement identifying the secret graves of nine people murdered and buried by the group. Three were IRA members, executed for their alleged ties to the security forces, while the six others were civilians.

The statement apologised for the "prolonged anguish" caused to victims' families and acknowledged the "incalculable" pain they have suffered.

John McClory, a friend of Brian's, who disappeared at the same time, was also named on the list, as was Jean McConville, a Protestant who converted when she married a Roman Catholic.

[ image: John McClory: Was 18 when he disappeared with Brian]
John McClory: Was 18 when he disappeared with Brian
Mrs McConville, a widowed mother of 10, was murdered in 1972, shortly after she had held a dying British soldier in her arms. The IRA alleges she admitted to being a British Army informer although it seems she may have been killed by mistake.

Her daughter and son-in-law, Helen and Seamus McKendry, launched the action group Families of the Disappeared four years ago after receiving death threats for their campaign work.

The group sees recent moves as a vindication of its work, although it was scathing of the trade-off granting amnesty to the killers.

For some however, the unabated suffering is set to continue, since a handful of "disappeared" were not acknowledged in the IRA statement.

[ image: Capt Robert Nairac: Executed after going undercover]
Capt Robert Nairac: Executed after going undercover
They include the SAS man, Capt Robert Nairac, who was killed in 1977 after going undercover in a south Armagh pub, and Seamus Ruddy, a republican activist who went missing in 1985 while living in Paris.

Meanwhile, the families of those named on the IRA list are making preparations to give their loved ones belated Christian funerals. Some, such as the McKendrys, have already booked burial plots.

The nine victims named by the IRA were:

  • Seamus Wright: an IRA member accused of being a British Army agent and member of the Military Reaction Force (MRF). He was court-martialled by the IRA in 1972.
  • Kevin McKee: an IRA member and alleged Army agent and member of the MRF. Court-martialled by the IRA in 1972.
  • Eamon Molloy: IRA member and thought to be an RUC informer. Court-martialled in 1975.
  • Jean McConville: mother who allegedly confessed to being an Army informer in 1972.
  • Columba McVeigh: civilian who allegedly confessed to being an Army agent with instructions to infiltrate the IRA. Disappeared in 1975.
  • Brendan McGraw: civilian who allegedly confessed to being a British agent provocateur and MRF member in 1978.
  • John McClory: civilian who allegedly admitted stealing IRA weapons for use in robberies. Disappeared in 1978.
  • Brian McKinney: killed with McClory for same alleged offence.
  • Danny McIlhone: Said to have admitted stealing IRA weapons in 1981.
Among those not named on the IRA list were:
  • Seamus Ruddy: member of the INLA who moved to Paris in the early '80s. Killed by associates in France in 1985.
  • Capt Robert Nairac: SAS man killed after an undercover mission to a south Armagh pub in 1977.
  • Gerry Evans: vanished in 1979 while returning to the North from a dance in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Charlie Armstrong: Abducted on his way to Mass on a Sunday morning in 1981.

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