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Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK


Never lose heart, 'disappeared' families told

The digging is continuing at six sites in the Irish Republic

Relatives of eight of the IRA "disappeared" have been told not to become disheartened by the lack of success after a week of digging for their bodies.

The Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, which is in charge of retrieving the corpses, said the digging at burial sites indicated by the IRA is a "necessarily slow and painstaking" process.

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The commissioners, retiring BBC governor Sir Kenneth Bloomfield from Northern Ireland and former Irish minister John Wilson in Dublin, said they had remained in contact with police and IRA intermediaries since digging began a week ago.

"It is primarily out of consideration for the families concerned that we have been somewhat reticent in our public comment over the past week," they said.

[ image: Around 1,600 tonnes of earth has been removed at one site]
Around 1,600 tonnes of earth has been removed at one site
"We are anxious not to raise any false hope or expectation of early success. At the same time we are also anxious that they should not become disheartened".

By Friday, the seventh day of excavations across the Irish Republic, only one of nine corpses had been found.

The remains, believed to be those of alleged Belfast informer Eamon Molloy, were inside a new coffin, placed above ground in an cemetery near Dundalk, Co Louth.

(Click here to see a map of the sites)

The IRA has said the lapse of time and deaths of members is responsible for their inability to pinpoint exactly where murder victims of the 1970s and 1980s are buried.

Detectives say they will keep digging until they are certain there is no hope of finding the remains, but have warned victims' families to expect a "long, drawn-out process".

[ image: Helen McKendry watches the dig for the body of her mother, Jean McConville]
Helen McKendry watches the dig for the body of her mother, Jean McConville
The son-in-law of one of the victims, widowed mother-of-10 Jean McConville, said he was optimistic that her remains would be found at Templetown Beach, Co Louth, where excavations started last Saturday.

"As much as anything, I can't believe the people who did this would be stupid enough to give the wrong place," said Seamus McKendry, who has maintained a vigil at the site with his wife, Helen, since the work started.

"You could see how they would get the exact site wrong in a place like this, where there are no landmarks, but no-one would want to be accused of giving the wrong place altogether."

Other victims being sought in the excavations are:

  • Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright, Belfast IRA men branded informers and killed in 1972. They were said to have been buried somewhere in an acre of densely wooded land near Navan, Co Meath. Excavation only began on Friday after private contractors chopped down and uprooted hundreds of trees and shrubs.

  • Brian McKinney, 23, and John McClory, 17, from Belfast, murdered in 1978 after being accused of stealing IRA weapons for use in armed robberies. Police have been digging up bogland near the border in Co Monaghan since Sunday for their remains.

  • Danny McIlhone, from Belfast, killed in 1981, also said to have pilfered IRA weapons to carry out robberies. His grave is said to be on the side of a mountain near Blessington, Co Wicklow, where work has been in progress since Sunday.

  • Brendan Megraw, branded an informer and killed in 1978. His burial place has been located as bogland near Kells, Co Meath, where digging started on Wednesday afternoon.

  • Columba McVeigh, 17, from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, also branded an informer and killed in 1975. His burial place was located as another bog near Emyvale, Co Monaghan, where excavation work started on Monday.

    The search for the victims' remains began after legislation in the UK and Ireland established a commission to allow information to be accepted from the IRA without the threat of prosecution for those responsible in the crimes.

    But reaction to the search has become increasingly negative.

    Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the information about the location of the graves "does not appear to be satisfactory, to say the least".

    Mary Robinson, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland, has also challenged the IRA to do more.

    "I would hope that it would be possible to provide more factual material," she said. "It is so important that the families have an opportunity to bury their family members in respect and love."

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