I am here today with my fellow commissioner, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, and our lead investigator, Mr. Geoff Knupfer. We thank the committee for its invitation to this afternoon's meeting. We last came appeared before the committee on 16 February 2012. We are delighted to have the opportunity to inform it about the work that has been undertaken by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains in the intervening period. We are very pleased that, since our last meeting, four disappeared victims have been recovered and their remains returned to their families.
Before we detail our recent activity, however, I would like to take the opportunity to outline briefly the background and functions of the commission for the benefit of any new committee members who were not present at our last meeting. The commission was established in 1999 by the Irish and British Governments as one element of the suite of initiatives taken by them in the context of the peace process. The commission is completely independent in its functions. It is a non-political body that, since its establishment, has enjoyed cross-party and cross-community support. This is important to us and the families. The commission has a humanitarian mission and it is not part of the criminal justice system in either jurisdiction.
The purpose of the commission, as members will know, is to facilitate the recovery to their families of the remains of persons killed by paramilitaries during the conflict in Northern Ireland and buried secretly. These victims are known as "the disappeared".
The interests of these victims' families have been at the forefront of the commission's efforts since 1999 and will remain so. They have had to endure a particular cruelty, facing not only the tragedy and injustice of losing a loved one to murder, but also the added pain owing to a relative being missing. All they seek is the return of the bodies of their loved ones for a dignified burial, to have a place to grieve and to have an end to the painful uncertainty of not knowing where the body of their brother, father, son or uncle has been concealed. The commission is deeply committed to alleviating their suffering and will continue its work to that end.
In the pursuit of its objectives, the commission has been a model of cross-Border co-operation since its establishment. The commission, the two Governments and police forces, and the many others who have provided services to the commission, have all worked seamlessly together towards a shared goal. In that sense, the commission is a testament to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. We are grateful for the unwavering support of the two Governments for our work.
As I stated, we have recovered four victims since our last meeting with the committee in 2012. On 1 October 2014, the commission discovered the remains of Brendan Megraw at Oristown Bog. Brendan disappeared in April 1978. It would be 36 years and multiple searches before he was recovered and returned to his family.
On 25 June 2015, the remains of Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee were recovered in Coghalstown, County Meath. Seamus and Kevin were found during an extensive search being undertaken by the commission for another disappeared victim, Joe Lynskey. They had been abducted and murdered together some time around October 1972. The commission had previously searched for the remains of Kevin and Seamus in the Coghalstown area but those earlier searches had not been successful. Their discovery during the Joe Lynskey search was unexpected but, of course, greatly welcomed by their families and by the commission. Following their recovery, the search for Joe Lynskey continued for another five months. Regrettably, we did not find him, and he remains one of our three outstanding cases.
On 6 May 2017, the commission recovered the remains of Seamus Ruddy at a forest in Pont-de-l'Arche near Rouen in France. Seamus had been teaching in Paris when he disappeared in 1985. Several unsuccessful searches had been undertaken by the commission and the Garda Síochána previously. However, following extensive inquires undertaken by the commission prior to the new search, Seamus was recovered and returned to his family. The commission greatly appreciates the co-operation and assistance of the French authorities and the Irish Embassy in Paris in achieving the outcome.
My co-commissioner, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, will speak about the remaining cases on the commission's work programme.