I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 77 together.
When I last answered questions in the House about this matter on 1 July the remains of three victims had been located. The remains of these persons – Mr. Eamonn Molloy, Mr. Brian McKinney and Mr. John McClory – have since been returned to their families for burial.
Despite extensive searching, involving the commitment of whatever Garda and other resources were necessary, no other remains were located. I should make the point that those searches generally went considerably further than would have been thought necessary on the basis of the information made available. In other words, all reasonable efforts were made to bring those searches to a successful conclusion. In making this point, I am sure all Members of the House will join me in paying tribute to the excellent work carried out by An Garda Síochána in this regard, not least for the sensitive manner in which they dealt with the relatives who obviously were going through a particularly harrowing time.
After 49 days of extensive searching an operational decision was taken to suspend the remaining searches and to assess the operation in the light of the information available. Discussions are ongoing between the gardaí and the Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains regarding the availability of any further information that would assist in the search for the remains of the victims. Any such information is being and will be assessed to see if it forms the basis for further action on the part of the gardaí. I take this opportunity to appeal to anyone who has information which could lead to the location of victims' remains to make this available to the commission.
While I do not have available to me the precise number of hours expended by the gardaí to date, and I do not believe there would be any substantial benefit to be gained by collating this information, it is beyond doubt that the necessary resources were made available both in terms of the gardaí and outside assistance to undertake the searches in question.
In relation to the matter raised by Deputy Quinn, I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 118 of 28 April 1999, No. 93 of 5 May 1999 and No. 248 of 11 May 1999. As mentioned in the responses to those questions, the remains in this case are those of the late Mr. Séamus Ruddy. Following appropriate consultations, on 23 March 1999 the Irish Central Authority for Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, which is part of my Department, forwarded an International Rogatory Commission to the French Ministry of Justice for assistance in locating the remains of Mr. Ruddy. The rogatory commission was issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions at the request of An Garda Síochána. The French Ministry gave approval in principle for the execution of the request on 15 April and, following subsequent contact between the gardaí and the relevant French authorities, a search was carried out on 5 and 6 May 1999.
The full co-operation of the French authorities was received at all stages and I want to place my appreciation of this on the record of the House. In addition, all possible assistance was afforded by the Irish authorities involved in the matter. An area which had been indicated as the place where the remains in question were located was excavated without success. The initial area of search was then widened and a much more extensive area was excavated, again, unfortunately, with negative results.
Recently the gardaí have received further information from the Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains on the possible location of the remains. This information is currently being evaluated in co-operation with the French authorities so that an agreed strategy for further action may be taken in the near future.
It is only right to acknowledge again the valuable work being performed by the Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains in dealing with this very difficult issue.