Skip to main content
Normal View

Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement debate -
Thursday, 9 Dec 2021

Engagement with WAVE Trauma Centre

I propose we go into private session while we admit our guests. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.36 p.m. and resumed in public session at 1.38 p.m.

Members of the Oireachtas attending this meeting remotely should do so from within the Leinster House campus. Remote participation is not possible if Members of the Oireachtas are not in Leinster House.

Members and all those in attendance are asked to exercise personal responsibility in protecting themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. They are strongly advised to practise good hand hygiene. Every second seat may be used, but nobody can be in the committee room except ourselves. There are facilities for cleaning hands. I would urge people not to move any chair from its current position. People should also maintain an appropriate level of social distancing.

I propose to call members in the following order, repeating it if time allows. I appreciate members have indicated that they have issues with time. I propose to take Sinn Féin first, followed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Green Party, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Independents and Aontú.

As regards the time slot for Ms Claire Hanna MP, it would be best if she could text the clerk to the committee. I will make sure we get to her during the meeting.

Are the rota and exceptions to which I referred agreed? Agreed.

The business today is engagement with representatives from the WAVE Trauma Centre. We visited the centre recently and met its chief executive officer, Ms Sandra Peake, and a number of participants in its activities. We were profoundly impressed by the evidence they gave, the very strong human suffering they have suffered, the need to get closure and the need for all of us to ensure that at least they can bury their loved ones. Everybody is entitled to that human treatment. I welcome Ms Peake along with Ms Anne Morgan, Mr. Oliver McVeigh, Ms Dympna Kerr and Ms Maria Lynskey. I understand that Mr. Michael McConville, a member of the family of Jean McConville, is also present.

Before I ask Ms Peake to make her opening statement, I remind witnesses that the evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precinct is protected pursuant to the Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. However, witnesses and participants who are to give evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precinct are asked to note that they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness giving evidence from within the parliamentary precinct and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Witnesses are also asked to note that only evidence connected with the subject matter of the proceedings should be given and should respect directions given by the Chair and the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible, they should not neither criticise nor make charges against any person or persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to that person or entity's good name.

I now invite Ms Peake to make her opening statement. We appreciate her giving her time today.

Ms Sandra Peake

I thank members for inviting us. We appreciate that there are many challenges regarding Covid. While we would have much preferred to have met with members face to face, we know the importance of remaining safe so we thank the committee for agreeing to have this online session with us today.

WAVE has been in existence for 30 years and I have worked in the organisation for the past 26 years. During this time, I have been privileged to have worked with the families of the disappeared - those who were abducted, murdered and secretly buried as a result of the Troubles. The experience of having a loved one disappeared has been harrowing for the families. They have faced many challenges since the abductions and, above all, their wish is to see their loved ones brought home for a Christian burial. I am delighted today to be accompanied by several of the families. I am accompanied by Maria Lynskey, whose uncle, Joe Lynskey, was disappeared in August 1972 and whose body has not been recovered. I am also joined by Dympna Kerr and Oliver McVeigh, whose brother, Columba McVeigh, was abducted from Dublin in October 1975. It is believed he was brought to Bragan bog, County Monaghan and despite searches there by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, ICLVR, he sadly has not as yet been recovered. We are also joined by Anne Morgan, the sister of Seamus Ruddy. Seamus was disappeared in France in 1985. His body was recovered in May 2017 following a number of searches. Finally, we are joined by Michael McConville.

His mother, Jean, disappeared in 1972 and she was recovered in August 2003.

One of the most powerful aspects of the work with the families of the disappeared is the solidarity of the families in supporting each other. Even when their own loved ones have been found they continue to support those who still wait and still yearn. I am going to hand over to the families shortly but before I do I will make some general comments on legacy due to the current situation in which many individuals bereaved and-or injured find themselves in today.

One of the most challenging issues currently affecting those bereaved is the question of legacy and the direction of travel of the British Government. This has retraumatised, it has brought heartache to families and it has raised key issues around worth. For example, why is my loved one's death not being addressed, why is the state saying that his or her death no longer matters, and why are they telling those who perpetrated my loss that they are no longer of interest to the state?

Over my time in WAVE, I have engaged with families whose loved one's deaths were being investigated by the RUC, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, the Historical Enquiries Team, HET, An Garda Síochána, the Police Ombudsman, the legacy unit in PSNI and specialist investigative teams such as Operation Kenova. It is important to state what the bereaved have been asked to make concessions in support of the Good Friday Agreement, including the early release of prisoners; a limit to a two-year sentence; and an ad hoc process to address the legacy of the past. It is clear that at times the priorities that were adopted in legacy were politically driven. Now, once again, there is a proposal that the bereaved will have to make concessions again if this goes through. The effect on those bereaved has been colossal. Many have spoken about feeling that they have been rewounded and that their loved ones have died all over again. The expected direction of travel is both morally and ethically wrong.

Legacy can be addressed. We have seen that in our work with families engaging with the Operation Kenova that is led by Jon Boutcher. The Secretary of State keeps stating that there is no alternative to the statue of limitations but that is simply untrue. There is an alternative but the Tory Government needs to find a process that provides an amnesty and protections for a number of soldiers, and refuse to accept the processes that work today for families. We need the international community to stand with us on this. The US Administration was a firm supporter of the peace process. The Irish Government also needs to hold firm. I urge all members to fully address the deaths that also happened in their jurisdiction. It would be beneficial if a legacy process operated across Ireland given the cross-jurisdictional issues that arise.

The second point I want noted today is support for the injured. The injured pension has been made available for those who were injured in the Troubles who live within the United Kingdom. Those who were injured in the South of Ireland but who are not UK citizens are not eligible to apply. We urge the Irish Government to address this issue and ensure parity.

I will return to the issue of the disappeared and why we are here today. Disappearing individuals is quite simply one of the cruelest acts anyone can commit against families. It is the families who continue to suffer, yearning and longing for the return of their loved one’s bodies each day.

The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, ICLVR, appeared before this committee a month ago. The commission does sterling work and its people are amazing. However, the ICLVR relies on information. We urge anyone who has the information regarding the whereabouts of any of the disappeared to provide it to the ICLVR through the channels available or go to someone they trust so that the information can be passed on.

The ICLVR and the parameters around its work is one of the success stories of the Good Friday Agreement. It is one of the processes that has worked. However, it is information led and that is what is required. The ICLVR has the specialists, equipment and funding but need information. The families of Joe Lynskey, Columba McVeigh, Robert Nairac and Lisa Dorrian need to be able to bury their loved ones and lay them to rest.

On behalf of all of us, I thank the members of the committee for inviting us to join them this afternoon. I am now going to hand over to the families. First, Ms Lynskey will say a few words and she will be followed by Ms Kerr, Mr. McVeigh, Ms Morgan, and Mr. McConville.

I thank Ms Peake for her very important address and the sentiments she has expressed. We, universally, support her and the families in this regard.

We will call the witnesses in the order suggested by Ms Peake. We want to listen empathetically. If the witnesses have questions, each party will then respond. We rotate members' speaking slots at every committee meeting. Today, the speaking order is as follows: Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, SDLP, the Green Party, Labour, Independents and Aontú. I want the witnesses to feel confident they will have an appropriate hearing and to reassure them that they will have the opportunity to ask questions. I invite Ms Lynskey to make her opening statement if she is comfortable with that.

Ms Maria Lynskey

My name is Maria Lynskey. I am the niece of Joe Lynskey. My uncle disappeared in 1972. He was in his late 30s or early 40s; I am not too sure of his age. For 38 years, we have known that he is one of the disappeared. His mother and sisters died and my father died. He has one sister left, who is now 86. I would love to have the opportunity to tell her that her brother is coming home. The past 11 years have been a nightmare for us. We knew other families, who lived close beside us, who had family members disappeared. We knew the anguish they were going through, but we did not realise we would go through it ourselves.

There is not a lot more that I can say. The members already know the story. I am asking for some sort of information so that all the families can get closure on this. I hear politicians saying all victims need to know the truth. Our truth is very easy; all we need is the location. The information can be handed over to the commission. We need know nothing about it and nobody will be prosecuted. What more can we do? That is all I can say.

I thank Ms Lynskey. I quite understand how she feels. Obviously, her family and relatives have been through a trauma. If we can help in any way, we will. All the parties in the South, and most of the parties in the North, who are members of the British Parliament, are represented on the committee. I will move on to Ms Kerr, followed by Mr. McVeigh, Ms Morgan and Mr. McConville. After that, we can go round the different groups, if that is all right. I invite Ms Kerr to make her statement. She is welcome.

Ms Dympna Kerr

I am Dympna Kerr, the sister of Columba McVeigh. Columba was a young man of 19 years of age when he was disappeared. He was one of my younger brothers and the apple of my mum's eye. I can cope with the fact that Columba has died. Like everybody else, we cope with death. The part I cannot cope with is his remains are lying in a bog and have been there for the past 46 years. We do appeal after appeal for information. The right people are not listening to us. We really need help in getting it out there to the people who know the answers so that they can pass the answers on to the independent commission and let it do its job. We know the commission has a good success rate. If it gets the proper information, they will find Columba. The only thing that we want now for Columba is to give him a Christian burial and to put him in the grave beside our parents.

The pain and suffering Ms Kerr and her family have had to go through is unspeakable.

Mr. Oliver McVeigh

I thank the Chair and all the committee members. The last time we met, I maybe got a bit carried away but maybe not. I spoke from the heart. We are all waiting and I feel the same way as my sister sometimes. We talk about parties who can help, and the committee can help. We appreciate every bit of help but it all leads back to one party and one group, that is, Sinn Féin, the provisional movement and the republican movement, who can garner this information and make an effort to get it. Talk is cheap and we can talk all day but we do not need talk. We need actions. It needs to be brought to the highest possible level in Sinn Féin.

It is never spoken about by Deputy McDonald in the Dáil. I never hear it mentioned and have never heard any reports. A question was put to the deputy First Minister during time with Justin McNulty from the SDLP and she fudged it. She probably knows me personally but fudged the question and did not want to answer it. She talked about it in a roundabout way. It has never, I presume, been brought up at the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis. If it is such a blight on their future and on the past, why can they not go to the efforts to make sure all the disappeared are found and get it out of their hair? We will not stop until we find the other bodies. We just want a Christian burial. We want to bring them home and bury them like everybody else has the right to do.

I urge members to keep pressure on the right people. The information that comes through, if there is any, from when I have been talking to the commission members on and off is that they need direct involvement with the people giving information rather than through an interlocutor, which is what is happening. That is like Chinese whispers. I tell someone and someone tells someone else. They will come on quicker and better with information if they get it directly from the people. These people have nothing to fear. They can be totally anonymous. We do not need or want to know them. If the bodies are found, we will be the first people to thank them. That might sound silly, but we will be the first people to thank them. As Ms Kerr said, we can come to terms with the death, but we cannot come to terms with not putting them in the grave.

I thank Mr. McVeigh. I deeply appreciate his coming here. It is difficult for him to make those statements to us but we are with him all the way.

Ms Anne Morgan

I thank the committee for asking me to come today. I am a sister of Seamus Ruddy. Seamus had been disappeared in France in 1985. We waited 32 years before we found out where he was. On 6 May 2017, I was in France and Seamus's body was found.

His remains were in a forest. We had been to the location on two previous occasions.

Since the forensic team was put in place in 2005, we had a more professional way of searching for the disappeared. When I came home after the 2008 search, when his body was not discovered, I knew that, in forensic terms, the team had done so much to try to find him. I came away content in one respect because I knew the team members had forensically searched for him, but to no avail. They were very close when they searched in 2008. They were only three feet or four feet away from him when they finished their search. The search in France lasted four days. We did not have a very long time to look for him because there were many technical issues in the context of the French authorities. On our last search in 2017, the whole team came over. All the men and excavators were there. We had a sniffer dog and as much forensic equipment as we needed to find him. On Saturday, 6 May 2017, he was found.

In one way, it is very bittersweet because you are celebrating the death of a person, which is very unusual, and also celebrating that he has been found. My heart goes out to the families who are still waiting because I know what it is like to get word that the remains had been found and he was on his way home. That is what happened. He returned to Ireland and was buried with my mother and father.

What is important is that while I was trying to get information, I spoke to men who were not directly involved in his killing but who were in the organisation that killed him, namely, the INLA. I contacted them directly, went to meetings with them, discussed what I knew about it and they told me what they knew. I found that aspect extremely beneficial. I could look straight into their eyes and say "Please help me". I knew then that those men would help me, and that is what they did. They put their heart and soul into it. That process went on for about two years. I met them here in Newry - out in the open in the lobby of a local hotel. It was not a private meeting or anything. That helped me an awful lot because I knew those men would try their best and that is what they did. Direct contact with those who may have been involved or who were around at the time or who knew people who were around at the time would bring this forward. Initially, there was a reluctance on the part of the people to whom I was talking to engage with the commission. If contact could be made through another type of intermediary so that people could talk to them, that could benefit the families.

It has been great to be able to go to the grave and know that he is in it. For the first few months after finding him, I used to go to the graveyard. I was very worried because I thought that someone would take him away. It sounds a bit daft, but I was under the illusion that I might lose him again. Having spent 32 years trying to find him, I did not want that to happen. I tried my best anyway. He is here and I am only getting used to that now. It is a slow process accepting that I have now found him. The work of the commission has helped me a million times over. Its cost does not even get close to the price you would put on what it does. I do not believe it has a price.

The Irish Government has stood by the families of the disappeared. It has looked after us. It is the one we should be congratulating and letting know that we have benefited. The other families that are still waiting will benefit from this. We just have to keep on asking for information. By coming to this committee, it means that we are keeping this part of the Good Friday Agreement alive. If possible, we will be with the committee again and, hopefully, we will have found the others. I thank the Chairman.

I thank Ms Morgan for her testimony. She received hope by communicating with people who may have been closely linked with those who murdered Seamus. She can never find happiness, but she can find closure, and the respect shown to her and her family is important. Our job as politicians is to make sure that we can assist her as much as possible in getting that closure. While it is impossible for us to put ourselves in her place because we are not in her situation, we understand as best we can not only her pain and suffering, but also the closure she has got by the finding of his remains and their return and burial in a place that is sacred to her and her family.

I invite Mr. McConville to address us.

Mr. Michael McConville

I am the son of Jean McConville. My mother was taken away in 1972. I was only 11 years of age at the time. I witnessed my mother being taken away. I know the importance of getting the body back. I would like to see the remaining bodies coming back to their loved ones. It is nice to have a grave to go to to visit your loved one. It is the right of everyone to have a Christian burial, not to be put in a bog or anywhere else. It is important that all of the others get their loved ones' bodies back.

The 31 years of a nightmare that we had as children and as we grew up into adults not knowing where our mother was buried or where she was and all the stories that we were told by different people saying that she had run off with people and so on were the things that we had to live with. It was thrown in our faces.

It is important that the Irish and British Governments do all they can to get the rest of these bodies back. When it first happened to us, I thought we were the only people it had happened to. Then I started meeting different families at WAVE and realised that we were not the only people it had happened to and that our mother was not the only person this had happened to. It is very important that everybody else gets their loved ones' bodies back. That is all I have to say.

Ms Órfhlaith Begley

I welcome each of the witnesses. Those contributions have been very emotional for me to have heard for the first time at this committee. I cannot begin to understand the pain and trauma that they and many families have had to endure over the years. Of course, the pain and suffering are further compounded by the fact that they have not been able to locate the bodies of their loved ones in three of those cases - four including Lisa Dorrian. The issue of those who were abducted and secretly buried is a terrible legacy of the conflict. This generation of republicans are trying to undo the wrong that was done. As a result, 13 of the 16 people killed by republicans have been recovered. However, as we know, there are three remains that still have not been recovered, including Joe Lynskey, Columba McVeigh and Robert Nairac, as well as Lisa Dorrian. I would use the platform of this committee to urge anyone out there who has any information to bring that forward and make it known. That would be the consensus of everyone in the committee today. If anyone has information they should come forward and make sure it is known.

I also take this opportunity to commend WAVE, under the leadership of Ms Peake. She has been remarkable and over the past 30 years the organisation has provided group support and care for many families that have been bereaved or are victims of the conflict. I note her remarks about the British Government's command paper in respect of the amnesty proposals. It is striking that there is united opposition from victims, survivors and political parties right across this island. I do not have many questions but what impact does Ms Peake feel these proposals will have on the overall process of reconciliation? I thank the families for giving up their time to be with us today. This is an opportunity to highlight the cases and encourage anybody with information to make it known and to come forward.

Deputy Conway-Walsh might want to come in now. She indicated that she might have to go soon.

I will come in for a short time. The committee will hear the bell in the background, so I apologise because I will have to go to the Chamber. When Columba McVeigh was killed in 1975, I was a young child growing up in Mayo. I heard the pain and distress when we went to the WAVE centre.

I thank Ms Peake for hosting us at the WAVE centre. That was a valuable discussion. We heard at first hand from the witnesses. I commend the witnesses and the work that they have done over the years. This is a good opportunity, albeit painful, for the witnesses to reach out again to ask once more. All the mechanisms are in place to resolve the situation regarding the three remains that have not yet been recovered. We must do everything that we can. Every individual at this meeting today will do that from here on. I know great efforts have been made over the years. I appeal to anybody who has information, however significant it might be, to bring it forward to the commission.

We heard from Ms Anne Morgan about the relief that meeting directly with members of the INLA and people who could give that information brought. That should prompt anyone who would deny that to one of the three families who are waiting to question him or herself. The witnesses are not asking for anybody to be prosecuted or for anything other than the remains of their loved ones. We all know how important funerals are. I was at two family funerals last weekend, in London and in Birmingham. To have to wait 50 years to bury your loved ones is not right. I think that everybody will come out of this meeting with a renewed focus on what we can all do, whether it is in Mayo, Cork, or any other part of the country, to try to bring some kind of relief to the three families who are still waiting. I hear what Ms Maria Lynskey said about her sister being 86 years old. Time is not on her side in this matter. I want to give the witnesses an opportunity to come back in. I thank them all for being here today and giving their contributions. We can never understand but meetings like this maybe help us to understand a little better than we do.

I thank the Deputy. I note that Mr. Oliver McVeigh wishes to ask a question.

Mr. Oliver McVeigh

Sorry, Chairman.

Mr. McVeigh is very welcome to speak.

Mr. Oliver McVeigh

I was listening to Ms Órfhlaith Begley. I know she is in Sinn Féin. I am fairly confident that her age group was not involved in any of the Troubles but I urge her to go to her two leaders in the North and the South, bringing this to the highest level. Let them bring this to the top table and take the lead on this. It is okay for people to come to this meeting to urge people to bring forward information. We need this to come from the top, from Mary-Lou McDonald and from Michelle O'Neill. I urge Ms Begley to go back to do that. Talk is cheap. I am sure Ms Begley has this at heart. I ask her to please go forward and let them do the talking and take the lead so that we can all get this cleared up.

Does any other witness wish to make any comment or answer any of the questions which Ms Begley and Deputy Conway-Walsh have asked?

Ms Sandra Peake

Ms Begley had a number of questions about the legacy proposals with regard to reconciliation. There is a detrimental impact for families, which we see today, with rising referrals of the bereaved coming into WAVE and people who have never tapped into services before coming in for the first time. They are distraught. They include, in particular, those whose loved ones were killed between 1986 and the Good Friday Agreement. Those cases were never looked at by the Historical Enquiries Team, HET.

Some people were happy with the Historical Enquiries Team, other people were unhappy and others were left with questions arising from the process. Those whose loved ones' deaths had never been re-looked at between 1986, which is when the Historical Enquiries Team ended its work, and the Good Friday Agreement is the group I see is particularly struggling through the processes currently.

There are three other points in relation to this. The first is that we are handing it to the next generation. I used to deal with the parents. I used to deal with Vera McVeigh, if you want even to think of the families of the disappeared. It is now Dympha and Oliver who are taking this forward. Sadly, many of the parents in WAVE have died. We have buried five people in the last two weeks alone. Patsy McAteer, Ann's sister, was buried two weeks ago and a month ago, Michael's older brother, Archie McConville, died. That is indicative of what we are seeing. We are seeing many families losing their loved ones and it is the next generation who are taking it on. We are merely handing the trauma of the past to the next generation but without an understanding of what the context was like at that time. People who lived at that time know how manic it was and know what the systems were at that time whereas young people are looking at it devoid of that. They are looking at it solely on the facts and that is an entirely different relationship. I can see that in the transgenerational link.

It is fair to say there are still paramilitaries operating. We are still seeing families affected by paramilitaries, whether it is on the loyalist side or the dissident republican side. Quite simply, this will embolden paramilitaries to say that they will get away with this and they will not be held to account. It is a damaging message for our society moving forward. Nobody wants that for their children. They want to move forward in a process of peace and they do not want to be held back. The recent report yesterday of paramilitaries shows the problems of that when we look at the independent reporting mechanism. There is a clear issue about emboldening paramilitaries.

The third point is it undermines the Good Friday Agreement. We have to remember that many families voted in favour of this. Fundamentally, it undermines the basis of that if we are now saying to families, once again, we are removing this from the table. You are taking away the small glimmer of hope that families had. We do not have wholesale families here expecting prosecutions but we expect them to know that the rule of law stands and that there should be a proper Article 2 compliant investigation into their deaths.

There is still five minutes left in the Sinn Féin slot if members want to use it.

Ms Órfhlaith Begley

We are happy to move on, a Chathaoirligh. I thank the witnesses for those responses.

It seems the inference is that these people were murdered by the IRA. It has been said by Sinn Féin that, through its assistance, the remains of a significant number of people were recovered, of the 16 who were murdered. Does Sinn Féin have any view as to what should happen now? Is there more Sinn Féin can do, in terms of the IRA, to get this information? I accept it was a long time ago but there are people alive who must know about it. You might want to move on in terms of time but families cannot move on until the remains of the deceased are recovered. If it is a reasonable question, what is the answer to it? What more can we all do, but particularly Sinn Féin in terms of the IRA and the people who murdered these people? I do not know if anybody in Sinn Féin would like to answer that. There is nobody answering that, is there?

Ms Órfhlaith Begley

Do you want me to come back in? Sorry, I was not sure if Deputy Conway-Walsh was there.

I suppose our appeal today is for full co-operation and for anybody who has information to bring that forward. We join with the other parties in saying that. Of course, we will do whatever we can to ensure that any information out there comes forward.

I will move on to Fianna Fáil time slot. I note Deputy Smith is online. Senator Blaney was online and may still be online but I cannot see that from my screen. Therefore, I call whoever would like to start off.

The bells that rang were for vote in the Seanad and I presume my colleague has gone to the Seanad for that vote. I will speak for a few minutes if that is in order.

As the Chairman did, I welcome Ms Sandra Peake and all the other guests here today. I take this opportunity to compliment Ms Peake and all her colleagues in WAVE on the outstanding work they have done during the past 25 to 30 years. They have a great record of advocacy on behalf of people who have suffered and continue to suffer so much. The presentations made by the family members who have suffered and will continue to suffer so much through the loss of loved ones were powerful and dignified. Their words encapsulated so well the heartbreak and suffering of families that we cannot even begin to imagine. On every occasion I have had the opportunity to engage with family members who have lost loved ones in the most horrific of circumstances, they have always said they want to get the truth and a Christian burial for their loves ones. The clear message we heard today from each of the representatives who spoke is the importance of having a Christian burial and to know, for example, that a brother or an uncle is laid to rest in a family grave. It is important for all of us, particularly from the Christian community and other communities, to have a Christian burial and to have the opportunity to go to a grave and say a prayer or lay a flower. It is part of our make-up and our being. We cannot comprehend how difficult it must be for a family knowing that a loved one was abducted, murdered and secretly buried.

Mr. Oliver McVeigh and other guests spoke about needing information. As I did on the day we had commissioners from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains appeared before the committee, I stated that one of the stand-out quotes from the first report that the victims' commission in July 1999 was that anyone with the slightest shred of information on the possible location of bodies should make this known to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains. There are people who have information and it may be more than the slightest shred of information. As we did on the day the commissioners were with us, we appeal again and endorse every call that has been made for people who have any information to make sure it is brought forward.

That goes back to Ms Peake's excellent presentation in which she outlined the work of the WAVE Trauma Centre. Three themes that came through in her presentation were the solidarity of the families of the disappeared and of families whose loved ones' bodies have been recovered who still work and act in solidarity with the families who are still awaiting the return of their loved ones. It is very heartening to know of that solidarity. Ms Peake described the proposed amnesty by the British as a re-wounding of families who suffered so much. It definitely is that. It is reprehensible any Government could propose an amnesty for the perpetrators of heinous crimes. I spoke in the Dáil on this issue on Tuesday and the Taoiseach gave a clear response that the Irish Government is absolutely opposed to the British Government advancing such a proposal. A framework in the form of the Stormont House Agreement has been in place for a number of years to deal with legacy issues and we need to see it implemented.

Ms Peake spoke about the need to ensure that where there is support for victims, it is adequate, generous and effective. We will support advocacy groups such as WAVE in their requests to the British Government and other authorities to ensure that proper support is given to victims.

It was clear from her presentation and the presentation of our other guests that there is a need for information. The ICLVR outlined clearly to us that since its establishment shortly after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the appointment of Irish commissioners, successive Governments have provided all the resources and support that the independent commission needed. Ms Peake reinforced that particular point. They have the know-how and resources. Information is the missing ingredient. Sadly, that information is with some people and whoever has it needs to come forward.

Ms Peake also made a point about the loss of family members in recent weeks. Many of the crimes we talk about in the context of legacy issues go back at least half a century. As time goes on, memories and information will not improve. The matter was always urgent but the necessity for information to get passed on becomes more urgent as time goes by so that meaningful, comprehensive and adequate investigations can be carried out.

The British proposal of an amnesty is deplorable. That would cut off all avenues to getting to the truth with regard to crimes and would put an end to investigations and criminal prosecutions. It is unbelievable that this type of proposal would be made by a British government. It is rewounding families who have suffered so much over the decades.

I reassure WAVE and the families with whom our guests work that we are anxious to do everything we can to support them. When we spoke in Belfast, we discussed the possibility of a commemoration in Dublin, a specific day on which we would highlight the fact there are still people who were disappeared and whose bodies have not been recovered. We discussed the possibility of a day in Dublin that would emphasise that, in particular. I suggest the committee meets representatives of WAVE at least once a year, if not more often. We sincerely hope that if bodies are recovered, we will deal with other legacy issues that the centre deals with. The committee should engage with representatives of the centre and their family members at least once a year to reassure them of our continued support and to get the message out to the public that, unfortunately, there are families who have lost loved ones, whose bodies have not been recovered for more than 40 years. All I can do is to compliment our guests on their excellent and dignified presentations. They are making a simple appeal to try to get information and the truth, and to try to recover those bodies in order to afford families the Christian burial they wish for.

Ms Sandra Peake

The Deputy made the important point that memories do not improve. We know that those who were involved in these cases in their teens or 20s are now coming towards the age of 70, in some cases. Next year will mark 50 years since Ms Lynskey's uncle disappeared.

If you were in your 20s then, you will now be in your 70s now. That is where there is a real urgency on this. This is not something we have time to spend on. In ten years, the committee will not be coming back to talk to us about it. Time is of the essence. Sometimes it is felt that it is only when the families jostle and highlight this that we get a flurry of activity. We need this to be addressed now because people are getting older, dying or becoming ill - all the various things that happen in life - and we need to find the mechanisms.

I go back to the point Ms Morgan made. We urge those involved in this to go back to the start of these cases, assume nothing, look at it as if they are looking at it for the first time and engage directly with the commission. In Columba's case, they need to go back to the start of what they knew. In Joe's case, they also need to go back to what they know. There was a very limited search for Joe in Wilkinstown. I do not know whether members know this, but Maria was on her way to the search site, believing he had been recovered, when she got a call just outside Dundalk to tell her it was not one body but two bodies and that, therefore, it was unlikely to be Joe and more likely to be Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright. What a journey to make only to be told that halfway down the road. However, for Philomena McKee and the Wright family, it was a good day, if we can say that, because their loved ones were returned.

We have to go back to the start to look at these cases. There has been limited information on Joe and the searches too have been limited. As for Columba, wherever he is, he is not where the indications suggested he was on Bragan Bog. Bragan Bog is one of the most horrific places you can go. It is four miles up a lane, remote, with no sign of life, cold and barren, with a feeling of true isolation. We need people to go back to the start and consider this and we need people to engage directly with the independent commission. I have been involved in these cases for 25 years. I have sat with families who the commission told nothing more could be done because the people involved were dead, yet they were not dead and information came. I urge them to go back to the start again and work step by step through the commission. As Ms Morgan described, she had to make a move and highlight the issue again. For many people, Columba is just a name, but he was a beloved son and brother and he had all sorts of things he liked and an impish personality. He annoyed his older sister and his younger brother. Joe, too, had his own qualities. I urge those involved to go back to the start, look at these cases from the beginning and engage with the commission directly. People are not getting any younger and time is of the essence.

I was delighted to meet Ms Peake and others at the WAVE Trauma Centre in Belfast. If there is any way those of us on the committee can be of assistance as Government representatives, they should please let us know. We will only be delighted to help their cause.

We have treaded gently around this issue. This is not to have a go at Sinn Féin but, in a way, I will be having a go at Sinn Féin here. We treaded lightly on the day we met Ms Peake at the WAVE Trauma Centre and we heard the traumatic stories from Mr. McVeigh and others on the day we were there. Having listened to the harrowing testimonies during this meeting, I have found it somewhat sickening to the see the response from Sinn Féin since, which was nil. It is disgusting.

Any party that calls itself republican, if it truly wants to be a republican party known as republicans, should take that meaning to the very core and deal with these people in a republican matter. If it wants to be a party that is in government North or South, then it should start taking responsibility where it can. It should start with its two leaders. All representatives from Sinn Féin should go and talk to their leaders and ask them to come out and address this. It must be addressed. I do not think members of any other party in the State could sit with their consciences and sleep at night knowing and hearing the harrowing testimonies we have had today. I ask all parliamentary party members of Sinn Féin, North and South, to go, for God's sake, and talk to their leaders. Let us have a proper response to these families who are waiting to find their loved ones. It is beyond time.

On the injuries pension, I ask that we call on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, to perhaps do a question and answer session with us on this. We might begin that process with a letter to him, ask for a response and maybe invite him before the committee as well, to see if we can deal with the issue from a Southern perspective.

We will now hear from Senator Currie, followed by Deputy Carroll MacNeill.

Both Deputy Carroll MacNeill and I very much want to speak on this. I wish to reflect on the disappointing attendance by Sinn Féin today. Normally, we have many more Sinn Féin attendees at this meeting. It calls itself an all-island party but it actually has two slots on this committee. Its members did not use all their time in the first segment and there have been three attendees. That needs to be pointed out. If this was such a priority you would think there would be more Sinn Féin members here.

I welcome Mr. Michael McConville and Ms Maria Lynskey. Most especially, I must state that my family is linked to that of Mr. Oliver McVeigh and Ms Dympna Kerr. My parents knew their family so well. There were many cups of tea in our kitchen. One of the last conversations I had with my father before he died this day a month ago was about any opportunity I had to bring attention to their family and bringing Columba home. Columba is never far from out thoughts and was never far from his thoughts. As Oliver and Dympna know, he was part of the eulogy at Daddy's funeral. I ask them how it feels when the leaders of a party that is so opposed to the amnesty and who talk the talk about truth and justice are holding back the information Oliver and Dympna need. Those leaders have the power to provide that information and they are not giving it. How does it feel when they say members of the IRA were not criminals, honour the horrors of the past and justify the past? I also want to know whether our guests feel there is still a culture of omerta, silence and coercive control within that organisation and if that is a barrier to getting the truth. I ask the Sinn Féin members who are here what they personally are going to do about it, if the information is not forthcoming.

I want to follow on from what my colleague has said. When it comes to debates about nationalist victims, Ireland's future or Border polls, Sinn Féin members are here in force.

They are organised, professional, they have their questions ready with the order of speakers and they fill both slots. Sinn Féin has two slots whereas the rest of us might get a second slot if time comes around. Today, however, Sinn Féin is not here. I remember sitting beside John Finucane MP on 18 November at a similar meeting with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, and it was the same thing. Mr. Finucane spoke for four minutes and left the rest of the two slots vacant. As I was listening to Órfhlaith Begley today, it was interesting that she used the exact same words. I would invite anybody to go back and look at that. This generation of republicans wants to do something different, 13 of 16 people have been recovered and there are three that remain. They then move on to the next issue about legacy and then are happy to move on. It is deeply disappointing and cynical that this is the approach taken when, as members of the committee, we see the alternative approach that is taken by Sinn Féin on so many other occasions. I do not have any difficulty in saying that it has to be observed.

It was such a privilege to attend the Wave Trauma Centre and to listen to its members, including people who are not here today, for example, David Clements whose father was in the RUC and was murdered and Alan McBride who suffered deeply as a result of the Shankill bombing. It is a privilege to have representatives of the centre appear before the committee.

I have a simple question to ask. In their contact with republicans over the years, privately or in any way that they want to disclose, what do they say to the witnesses when they ask for help? What is their experience?

Mr. Michael McConville

I had plenty of contact with republican people over trying to get the whereabouts of our mother's body. I thought at the time that they were trying their best to help me but it got to the stage where, at one of the last meetings, the person I was meeting more or less wanted to fight with me. That was the reason why they shut the meetings down that I was having with people. I wanted the IRA to turn around and admit that they were wrong in murdering our mother. They were blaming our mother for being an informant, which she was not. It was proved that she was not an informant. She was a widowed mother of ten children. What would she know? She never went out anywhere to find out information about these people. I found out that most of the stuff they told me was lies.

What does Mr. McConville mean by trying to "fight" with him? Will he elaborate on that?

Mr. Michael McConville

He sort of picked a row with me. At the time, Charlie Armstrong's body had not been found and Gerry Evans's body was not found. Their loved ones were scared to speak out about this. I spoke out about it and this person turned around to me at the start and said "You think that the IRA knows everything that happens in Crossmaglen and you are blaming us for taking Gerry Evans and Charlie Armstrong away and murdering them." I said that there were no other paramilitaries down there only the IRA. I said it was they who murdered them. I said they could deny it all they wanted and it broke out from there, nearly into a row.

Mr. McConville said they never said it was wrong. What would it feel like if that ever did happen?

Mr. Michael McConville

I have always wanted the IRA to apologise to our family for murdering our mother. I know it has apologised by saying it to everyone at the time it admitted to murdering these people. All I wanted was for the IRA to say it was wrong in murdering our mother and that she was not an informant. She was not an informant and it has been proven that she was not.

Mr. Oliver McVeigh

I thank Deputies Carroll MacNeill and Currie for their time and involvement.

It was beautiful. It seems as though we are having a go at Sinn Féin. The young Sinn Féin members seem to be toeing the same party line, as Deputy Carroll MacNeill rightly says. If it comes when it suits them, they will do it but if it does not suit them they will not be there and they will not put the effort into finding these bodies. We need them to take the lead. They cannot be called, as Senator Blaney has said, true republican people. This is not a blight. We do not suffer in the same way as other victims of the Troubles. We are the unusual victims of the Troubles because we are still suffering. We are going through a 46-year wake, because we are the families of those who have not been recovered yet. It should be brought to the top table by Sinn Féin. They should go and do it and bring it to the table and talk about it openly, not as though it is a blight on their character. Please get these people to come forward. Time is not on our side. We need to do it now. This is why I greatly appreciate everybody keeping the pressure on now. We need to keep it on. We need to keep - for want of a better term and this is a bit crude - our foot on their necks.

We observed at the last meeting - I think members observed it among one another - that when we went to Northern Ireland recently to visit different groups, we noted the different people in attendance when we went to the WAVE Trauma Centre. I will not go further than that.

Ms Maria Lynskey

May I say something?

Ms Maria Lynskey

On previous deaths, we discovered that my uncle was a disappeared when my father was alive. He and my brother spoke to Sinn Féin and they probably spoke to members of the IRA. They told us that they knew nothing about Joe and that Joe probably was in England or America. We actually believed that. My brother actually called his house “the yellow brick road”. We will come back to you; we never heard from them again. They had plenty of opportunities in 38 years even to let us know that he was deceased. We lived believing that he was in America. My brother went to America for a holiday one time and was told he had just missed him and that he had given a speech for the Irish Northern Aid Committee, NORAID. We were told all these things through the years and then, 11 years ago, Ed Moloney came and told us the truth. Believe you me, I have had enough of talking to Sinn Féin.

I spoke with Ms Peake in the past about how there can be up to 12 people involved in abductions. We think it would be good for people to hear about the number of people involved and, therefore, the information that could be out there. Things that may have been seen that may not seem important or that people may have buried away themselves could be the key to unlocking the information that is needed. This is not about bringing someone to justice; it is about bringing people home.

Would Ms Kerr would like to make contribution?

Ms Dympna Kerr

I am the least political person around. You will never meet anybody who is not involved in politics like myself. However, the only thing I could say to Sinn Féin is that Sinn Féin will come out and call out the British Government about wanting to sweep everything under the carpet. I have never met anybody from Sinn Féin. I am not interested in meeting them. I am not interested in any apology from them for what they have done to my brother. However, surely they can see that they are doing the exact same thing to the families of the disappeared that the British Government is doing and they are the first ones to condemn them. That is all I have to say.

Very well said.

There has been powerful evidence and commentary. There are two minutes left in Fine Gael’s slot. May I just say one thing?

I feel profoundly that everybody wants the families to get closure. Perhaps through Ms Peake, we might invite members of Sinn Féin to meet with the families' group in an appropriate setting similar to the one in which we meet them. Would that be helpful? We need a plan that is constructive and engages. Even when this meeting is over, we might enumerate some of the actions we might carry out that would try to bring closure to the families. That is the key.

From a personal point of view, I had an uncle who was killed in the Second World War. I never even knew him. He was killed on the last day of the war and fought with the RAF and was shot down off Denmark after the ceasefire and his body was never found. That had a profound impact, particularly on my mother for all of her life. The only relief of pain that she could get was going to the Runnymede Memorial in London for the bodies of those who were never found and to put her hand on his name. That was a long time ago and is a memory from my own family. There are people alive of my age who were around in those times and I know from the republican movement in County Louth and in other counties who the members of this movement were. People know what happened and we cannot allow these people not to say what they know. I say this because I feel so strongly about it. Our hearts go out to these families because we know how they feel, forgetting the politics but thinking of the humanity of the situation.

I also mention Captain Robert Nairac who was, I believe, murdered in my own county. I do not agree with everything these people might have done but he was a human being, like everyone else, and is entitled to that decent burial and to that basic form of humanity which is the entitlement of everyone. No one can hide from that fact or should be allowed to continue to hide from it. My apologies for my emotion here.

I believe Claire Hanna and the Alliance Party are the next group to contribute.

Ms Claire Hanna

I thank the Chairman. My apologies to him and to the witnesses for having missed some of the conversation. I want to express my thanks to all those participating. It is very clear how traumatic it still is for the Chairman to talk about this. As he said, it is a decades-long wait.

We can hear you but cannot see you.

Ms Claire Hanna

My apologies as I am not in the office. Can the Chairman see me now?

We can see you a little bit better now but go ahead.

Ms Claire Hanna

I am sorry, Chairman, as I am on a mobile and I do not know how to address this issue. I can see on the Chairman’s screen in miniature but it is coming through fine on mine.

I visited the WAVE Trauma Centre a number of weeks ago and when I left I thought about the whole day. We heard from three separate victims and families of victims what compounded their hurt each time. One was the phenomenon that justice is not arriving to people because the people who perpetrated the crime are not choosing to give up the information, which is as true of paramilitaries as it is of the UK Government. It is also the fact that people’s characters are besmirched. We heard from the Ballymurphy families that they have been painted and pegged as gunmen and women for decades. We heard from the McVeigh family of people being told that Columba was an informer. We heard from Paul Gallagher that the man who shot him wrote in his book that he only ever shot paramilitaries and then, by extension, besmirched his character.

It is that second way of demeaning and degrading victims by undermining who they were and retrospectively creating a false narrative for why killings were carried out. That is fundamentally worrying.

We do not have confidence that victim makers will have the good grace to leave victims in peace and not use the blank cheque of an amnesty to justify their own action. I do not have any questions, other than what other colleagues have asked about how we can support victims and what we can best do in terms of how they want us to bring forward the campaign. I thank the witnesses. There is unanimity in the committee on trying to amplify the campaign and generally, to the extent that we can, tackle the legacy issues. Do the witnesses have any questions for us?

Mr. Michael McConville

It is me again.

Ms Claire Hanna

How are you doing, Michael?

Mr. Michael McConville

Not too bad, but I just want to say that when the IRA murdered all of our loved ones, they put a stigma on them saying what they had done was this, that and the other. They murdered them, but the likes of me and my brothers and sisters and all the rest of the families of the disappeared did nothing on them. For 31 years they tortured me and my brothers and sisters on the whereabouts of our mother and what they did to her. We did not know what she went through before she died or anything else. Every day of my life, that suffering is all I have.

Ms Claire Hanna

I am so sorry.

Mr. Michael McConville

People do not realise the heartache it caused. They ripped our family apart. I had to be in a home for five years of my life, not knowing my brothers or sisters beside me. I grew up not knowing them. They took everything away from me. My children are suffering because they had no grandmother or anything else. These people need to know the heartache they caused everyone.

Going back to Robert Nairac again, his sisters and family did nothing to these people. That says a lot about what they did. If they were decent people, they should be haunted by the bodies of Robert Nairac, Columba McVeigh and Joe Lynskey, and other people they have not claimed but who they killed and secretly buried. They need to come to terms with that, admit the truth and do the right thing if there is any decency in them whatsoever.

Does Ms Hanna wish to say anything further or will we move on to Dr. Parry? We can do whatever she is happy with.

Ms Claire Hanna

No, I do not.

That is fine. I invite Dr. Farry to speak.

Dr. Stephen Farry

I welcome the witnesses. I echo what other speakers have said and pay tribute to them for their dignity and determination over many decades in trying to bring closure to their beloved family members, find out the truth of what happened to them and give them a proper burial and a place where the families can gather over the years to reflect and remember them.

I have no doubt whatsoever that there are people on the island of Ireland today who have information that will lead to the recovery of remains. As others have said and I will stress, those people have a moral duty to come forward with that information and not go to their graves without revealing what they know.

I will use my time to highlight a couple of other points. I will reference in particular the case of Lisa Dorrian, which was referred to in Ms Peake's opening statement and to which others have also alluded. Lisa, because of the time of her disappearance, does not fall under the timeframe of the terms of reference of the commission. Her circumstances are very similar to those of others. Her family has also fought a very determined campaign to keep her case alive. There have been a number of false dawns, including in the past year, when trying to find her remains and discover what happened to her. The same point about people with information applies to her. In most of the cases we are talking about the IRA. In Lisa Dorrian's case we are talking about one of the various loyalist factions in Northern Ireland, but the pain is just the same.

It is also worth referencing a development in UK law, namely, Charlotte's law. I appreciate that this may not have any direct relevance to WAVE's cases, but it perhaps shows how thinking is evolving on this issue. Charlotte's law concerns a situation where somebody is convicted of a murder but the remains have not been found. That person would not be eligible for release from prison until he or she was fully forthcoming with information. I appreciate that in the absence of suspects and a criminal process, that type of law will not come into play in WAVE's cases, but it is something worth referencing for the future.

I appreciate it is not the direct source of our discussions today, but I will stress the absolute importance of ensuring we retain a rule of law and human rights-driven process around legacy. We have that with the Stormont House Agreement. The notion of an amnesty or a statute of limitations is not something we should consider. It is very important that we make clear that there is a very clear distinction between the very limited immunities that relate to the passage of information relevant to the location of remains compared with the forgoing of prosecutions. The UK Government, in particular, will often use that type of intervention to almost justify or rationalise what it is now proposing as just being one further step along the spectrum of interventions and that what has happened with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains somehow sets a precedent. It is important that we send out a very clear message that it does not. We are talking about fundamentally different conceptions and applications and the two should not be conflated. I am sure the witnesses will agree with that particular point. I see Ms Peake wants to come in. I am happy to pass over to her at this stage.

We changed the rotation to make sure Deputy Costello could contribute earlier.

This is a very difficult session. The pain and trauma are very obvious. I am at one remove as I sit here listening to stories. They are not my stories and I am not one who is directly feeling this or who has directly experienced this pain and trauma. I thank the witnesses for coming and for their bravery in sharing their stories. I thank Ms Peake and the WAVE centre for the support they provide and the work they do against that background.

I echo Dr. Farry's point that the rule of law and human rights are of fundamental importance. There is a right to truth established in the European Court of Human Rights. The truth ultimately is what the families before us are asking for. As a committee, we are doing what we can to ensure that truth comes out and to help to heal the trauma and suffering in any way that we can.

A question was asked earlier that I am not sure was answered. I would like Ms Peake to set out what it is we can do. We can have these sessions and make our appeals for information, but for those of us on this committee, what can we do to support WAVE Trauma Centre in the work it does? Ms Peake mentioned the pension scheme. There was a remembrance commission scheme here that paid out mostly once-off payments but my understanding is that medical payments for victims of the Troubles in need of medical treatment are available through the Victims of Crime Office. There is no direct pension right. In that regard, further information, even in writing, in follow-up to the committee would be very useful. Senator Blaney also asked for that information and mentioned that the committee should engage with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, on that issue. Any additional information the witnesses could send to us that would shed a light on that would be very useful.

I reiterate my question as to what we, as a committee, can do to support the important work that is being done in the search for that truth that is ultimately now the human right of the people before us.

I thank Deputy Costello. I note Ms Peake is indicating that she would like to come in.

Ms Sandra Peake

I am happy to respond to Deputy Costello, but I would like first to return to Dr. Farry's point. For the British Government the commission demonstrates the challenges of believing you will get information. It is almost 22 years since the legislation went through and Columba McVeigh and Joe Lynskey still have not been recovered. It has taken 22 years to get the bodies returned. The committee is not asking Dr. Farry the big questions for the families such as, "When did they die?", "What happened?" and "For how long were they held?". Mr. McConville referred to the questions; I am just conscious of raising those. If it was any of our relatives, we would have questions to which we would want answers. The families cannot get answers to those questions. They can get answers to questions such as, "Where did you walk them?" and "How far down did you put them?", which is what the commission wants to know. We have struggled to get that information.

If the British Government wants to say that this type of models works, well then, you get partial information. You get information you can interrogate and it shows that, for whatever reasons, people or organisations do not want to go back to that in which they were involved in an earlier life. It highlights that. Information needs to be interrogated. When the committee visited, Mr. McBride made the point very eloquently that had the information with regard to the Ballymurphy case not been interrogated, we would still have Ballymurphy relatives labelled today as being relatives of gunmen and gunwomen. As mentioned by Mr. McConville, the sad reality for the disappeared is that they are still labelled. That has never been lifted. Often when you read an article it goes on to say that they were allegedly involved in X, Y and Z. The reality is some of these people were very young, only 16, a number of them were young men who had learning difficulties and one of them was a mother of ten. As raised by Mr. McConville, what could his mother have done? She was rearing ten children. She was widowed in January and abducted the following December and those children were left.

We have to bear in mind the reality of what is out there. Senator Currie asked about questions. What we understand from the commission is that a whole team can be involved in a disappearance, from the scouters to the drivers to the people who dug the graves.

We need to go back to the start and look at each case from the start. Something has gone wrong from the start when we have not recovered those disappeared. We need to go back and that is really important because it is not just one or two people.

Mr. Geoff Knupfer appeared before this committee previously. He does not often share the magnitude of the work he has been involved in but he did talk about his work on the moors murders investigation. He spoke about the importance of the time of day in terms of where the sun was positioned, the landscape at the time and various other issues like how far up or across the site the investigators went and all of the things that made the difference to locating those children on the moors. He applied the lessons from the moors to the cases here. That very forensic approach has worked well. It has also worked well because people have engaged and given information, which has been so important. At all of the funerals of the disappeared, the families have acknowledged those people because had they not spoken, they would not have got the information needed to enable them to bury their loved ones.

This leads on to the question as to what this committee can do. We need an Ireland-wide publicity campaign. We need people to know that the disappeared are out there. We do not need it to be known today, only for it to go again in January and for us to come back before the committee in May or have to raise it with Senators Currie and Blaney or Deputy Costello or whoever. We need an Ireland-wide publicity campaign. We need to keep this issue in the public domain and we need to re-humanise Columba McVeigh, Joe Lynskey and Robert Nairac. To have a British soldier in Irish soil in 2021 is unacceptable. If we are truly concerned about reconciliation, he should be returned to be buried in his family grave in England. His sisters should be allowed to lay him to rest; that is the right thing to do. In Ireland we know the significance of burial and the last rites and that is what we need to give people.

On the injury pension, we need parity. We cannot have a situation where people who were injured by loyalist bombs in Dublin are not eligible for a scheme. If it is not the scheme in the North, it should be a scheme that is similar that will give them dignity by providing yearly sums to enable them to live their lives as fully as possible while dealing with severe injury. I urge the Government to do something about that. It is so important and it must happen.

We really need this committee's help. We need to ensure that the disappeared are not forgotten. We need to keep applying pressure and letting people know that nothing will happen if they give information to the commission. I must stress, and I am sure the families will agree, that the commission holds that confidentiality extremely tight. It does not tell the families what it is involved in but it does tell them when it has an indication of where it going to go to search. That is really key. I do not know whether the families want to say something about confidentiality. The commission, from what I have seen of its work, holds it very tight. That needs to be said in order to reassure people. This is a process that delivers but we need people to speak.

Does any of the family members wish to comment? Ms Peake made some very important points. I am thinking about how we can follow up on what she has said. We must initiate a strong campaign, supported by all parties and the community, to return the bodies of the disappeared. That is an absolute imperative for us.

Mr. Paul Maskey

The Chairman attended a WAVE meeting with us last month. That was a very important meeting and I was glad to see that some members of this committee were also in attendance. I know that not everyone could make it but nonetheless, it was a very important meeting. I was glad to be able to attend to hear at first hand the issues facing some of the families. I am speaking as an MP but also as a cousin of one of the disappeared.

It is not an easy thing to talk about. I appreciate the families taking the time to reiterate their stories. It is unfortunate that they have had to do so time and again.

I do not want to turn this into a political matter but I want to reassure the families that I have raised this on many occasions publicly and will continue to do so because the right thing to do is that anyone who has any information, no matter how small if it helps in any way to locate the bodies of the loved ones of the families represented at this meeting, it is important that they come forward now. There is no point in waiting. They need to come forward now because the families need to be put out of their misery, for want of a better phrase, because that is what their lives have been. It has been a misery for them.

I commend the families on their campaign. If any of them want to speak to me after the meeting, I have no problem in doing that. I spoke to Mr. McVeigh very briefly after our meeting at WAVE and I will do so again if he so wishes. I wish the families well and every success in their efforts to locate the bodies. If anyone has any information, no matter how small it is, please bring it forward as a matter of urgency so that the families can get peace.

Mr. McConville wishes to make a comment.

Mr. Michael McConville

Excuse me, is Mr. Maskey saying the same for Robert Nairac as well?

Mr. Paul Maskey

I am saying anyone who has information on any bodies of the disappeared should come forward. That is exactly what I am saying.

Mr. Michael McConville

Is Mr. Maskey talking about Robert Nairac as well?

Mr. Paul Maskey

If anyone has information on any body-----

Mr. Michael McConville

I am not asking about that; I am asking about Robert Nairac.

Mr. Paul Maskey

If anyone has any information on him, on Mr. Nairac, and that body, I think they should come forward with that information.

Mr. Paul Maskey

I thank Mr. Maskey for answering that question.

Ms Maria Lynskey

What can you do, Mr. Maskey? What can Sinn Féin do for us?

Mr. Paul Maskey

I am reiterating what I have said and what I have called for before. I do not have any information but if anyone has any information, they need to bring that forward because it is only fair and just. That is as much as I can do. I can plead with people. I can plead publicly with people to come forward. Anyone who has any information whatsoever, please come forward.

Mr. Michael McConville

I have another question I want to ask Mr. Maskey. There are other people missing. Could Mr. Maskey go to the IRA and tell it to look into it? There are definitely other people missing. I know of another two people who are missing.

Mr. Paul Maskey

I am not sure who Mr. McConville is talking about. I have asked-----

Mr. Michael McConville

No, I am not going to mention names here but I am telling Mr. Maskey now that there are another two people missing.

Mr. Paul Maskey

That may be the case. I will reiterate what I said earlier. Anyone who has any information on any bodies that have not been located, please bring that information forward as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Oliver McVeigh

Paul Maskey and I met briefly after the meeting and we talked about a few things. I know Mr. Maskey does not have any information but he has great influence. He has to have great influence if he is a Member of Parliament or if he gets lots of votes. I urge him to go forward. As I told him that night, he should bring the matter to the Ard-Fheis and say openly that the disappeared issue has to be cleared up. He should go and speak to Mary Lou McDonald about it in the Dáil and go and speak to Michelle O’Neill about it. I am urging him to do all those things. I will appreciate his help if he does it. I will meet with anybody as long as results come out of it. Talk is cheap. We have talked for years. We do not need any more talk. We need results. If I have to go anywhere to talk, I will go and talk to them, including to Mr. Maskey.

Ms Anne Morgan

I would like to say something on the whereabouts of my brother, Seamus Ruddy, who was buried by the INLA in France. When I was trying to get information I went directly to members of the INLA and spoke with them.

It was through that that I actually found Seamus. The information came through two ex-prisoners. Under the Good Friday Agreement, those men were allowed out of jail. They carried on with their lives, got on with their careers or whatever else. Those two men were inside when my brother was killed. They had nothing directly to do with his murder. They were not there at the time he was shot. However, those two men had the information and it is now Sinn Féin's time to go back to all the ex-prisoners and all the men released under the agreement, get them around a table in a hotel or wherever else and get them talking because that could be the place where that information may be found. It is appealing to the conscience of those who have had a second chance. Those men may have this information that goes back 40 or 50 years.

We as a society need to look at what we have given the republican movement in this country and appeal to it. Sinn Féin MPs and councillors are at the front of this but the answers to these problems lie with the background staff, if you want to call it that. I mean the background members who were there at the time. Young Sinn Féin councillors or whatever do not know anything about this so they do not know where to go. It is now time for them to actually delve into this. They really need to delve into it and appeal to the members who were members at the time. They need to get back to them. At one stage we had a meeting with Gerry Adams and I said it to him, even. He said people have died. Granted, people have died and we know that, and they might have been present when our loved ones were killed. However, it was not the old men of the IRA who dug the graves. They would have had the young members digging those graves in those bogs for those men who were going to be killed. These were our sons and our brothers. Young men would have been involved in the disappearance of any of the disappeared. Now, 40 years on, we are talking about some people who might be in their 50s, some who might be in their 60s and even, I suppose, some who might be in their 70s. We have got the 50-year-olds right up to the 70-something-year-olds to appeal to.

It is time Sinn Féin put it to its ex-members and reminded the ex-prisoners they were the ones who got the best deal out of the Good Friday Agreement. The families of the disappeared are still trying to get a good deal from the agreement because three families, plus that of Lisa Dorrian, are still sitting waiting. You do not know what it is like. My appeal to Sinn Féin is to go back and make a concerted effort. It could let the families of the disappeared know the party is appealing to the ex-prisoners and to those who were members 40 years ago or whatever. It could let the families know it is doing that. We are not going to make a song and dance about it but it is about our knowing the party is putting in place and carrying through something that would help with Columba McVeigh and help the families bring their loved ones back and give them a Christian burial.

I think it is time that Sinn Féin put it together and helped all these Irish people buried secretly in Irish soil. My God. You have to appeal to them and find them. It is up to Sinn Féin as an organisation to sort this out.

Does Mr. Maskey or any member of Sinn Féin wish to respond to those comments?

Mr. Paul Maskey

I have made my appeal. I have done it before and will do it again. Following on from the last comments, I will again make an appeal for anyone who has information, whether ex-prisoners or whoever, to bring it forward. I spoke to Mr. McVeigh briefly at the end of our meeting in Wales. I have spoken to people and if anybody has information, no matter how small, they should bring it forward as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Oliver McVeigh

Mr. Maskey might not have the information but people he could go to could have power to go to these people with information. Continuing to appeal is fine and I appreciate that but it is falling on deaf ears. We need actions. It is simple. We need to know what Mr. Maskey will do, not hear appeals.

There are still three minutes left in the Sinn Féin slot if it would like to comment. If it is helpful, I will make a comment. Mr. Maskey attended our meeting with the republican ex-prisoners group. That was fruitful but we did not discuss this issue at the meeting. Maybe we could arrange to do that. I accept the genuineness of Mr. Maskey’s efforts. The committee will pursue every possible way of getting at the truth of this.

If nobody in Sinn Féin wants to take up the three minutes left, I will move on. Are Labour Party members present? No. Senator Black and Deputy Tóibín are next.

I have no words other than to say that this is probably one of the most emotional meetings I have ever attended. I offer my deepest condolences to all the families. It is heartbreaking to hear their stories. I thank Ms Morgan, Ms Lynskey, Ms Kerr, Mr. McVeigh and Mr. McConville for coming in to share their stories and talk about the reality. I cannot imagine the pain they have gone through. We have heard it here but this has been unbelievably traumatic for them. Their whole lives have been impacted. The emotion at this meeting is palpable. Ms Peake shared her story of getting the news of the possibility of finding her loved one and then it was not to be. It is awful. I met Mr. McVeigh a couple of weeks ago in WAVE and I am now hearing his story again, and the stories of Ms Kerr and Mr. McConville as well. The whole thing is very moving and emotional. I thank our guests for sharing their stories with us. I hope some information will come out after this meeting that will result in the families finding their loved ones.

Of course, I am not forgetting Ms Peake, for whose work, and that of WAVE, I have great respect.

I was going to come to Ms Morgan, if that is okay, to ask her a question. What was it for Ms Morgan in the end that made the difference? I was wondering can Mr. Morgan say a little more about how that communication helped her. That is the first question I have.

Ms Anne Morgan

For years, I knew that I would have to put myself out there to get information and I knew I had to appeal to those men who caused my brother’s death. I knew that I had to go to places that I definitely did not want to go to physically, never mind mentally. I had to put myself out there and into the middle of them.

In one case, I and a few of the families of the disappeared went to an ex-prisoners conference in Limavady and I was in a room with a group of men who were all ex-prisoners. They were from both sides - there were loyalists and republicans. I told my story. In that room, there were men who cried. Now when I am telling my story, I cannot believe that it is that emotive. At times I will get emotional, especially when I talk about my mother, her waiting for him and all of that.

The ex-prisoners actually were one of my keys to get into finding out where he was. I did not realise on that particular day that I was talking to men in that room - in a group format sitting around in a circle - who were going to find my brother. I did not know that. It was four years before Seamus was found. I kept asking.

I had a telephone number of a fellow whom I spoke to in 1999. I did not use that glibly. If something came up, I phoned him and asked, “What was happening here? I want to find out more.” I was not on his back as such. I sort of built up an informal relationship with him.

In 2008, I went to France with my sister, Patsy. Patsy passed away two weeks ago. Anyway, Patsy and I were there for four days and the forensic team were doing their job. At the end of the four days, they just said, “Anne, he is not here where they said he was. We cannot find him.” There were men in forensic team who were crying to me but I was so grateful for them having gone there and having done their job so well. I was in admiration of them for what their skills involved in this process. I went back to the hotel and met my sister in the room and I phoned that fella, who I had the number for, from 1999. I called him all the Bs and Fs, and Cs. All sorts of language was used.

I just had a pay-as-you-go phone in 2008. My sister Patsy said to me that during that phone call I was jumping up and down and calling him all the so-and-so's of the day for not giving me the right information. I was so annoyed with him. My phone ran out of credit and the phone call stopped. Patsy said that because of the things I said to him, he would never help me again.

After a few years, I was speaking with the ex-prisoners and decided I was going to go back to the first man I called. We met here in Newry. Ms Peake was with me that day. She told me to just speak the truth and look him straight in the eye and say what I was looking for. That is what I did. My communicating with him directly helped me. He said to Ms Peake, "You should hear the conversation me and her had in 2008 and all the things she called me". He got all the obscenities I had in my head. You would not say things like that to this fella normally, or get away with it, but he appreciated me just speaking from the heart and giving it back to him. Is that not peculiar? He said he was glad my phone ran out of money because God knows what else I was going to say to him. I had formed that relationship with him.

When Seamus was found, which was brilliant, I had another meeting with this man. I took him and the two men who were with him up to my house, into the room I am in now, and we had lunch. Then I took him to the grave. I said I did not want him going up to the grave in the dark of night or anything. I wanted to take him and I took them up. That was a big day for me because it had all started in 1985 when members of their organisation had pointed at me and said "You're dead if you speak about Seamus again; you're dead if we ever hear anything more about him." I was under the threat of death for all those years and as far as I was concerned, it was not lifted until Seamus was found. Communication is the key to this.

I thank Ms Morgan. I appreciate her letting us know about that. I see Ms Lynskey wants to come in.

Ms Maria Lynskey

Is Paul Maskey still there?

Ms Maria Lynskey

There is something I would like to ask him. Mary Lou McDonald has stated quite a few times that all victims need to know the truth. I have already said this. Are we, as victims, excluded from this? Do we not need to know? The answer is so easy. It is just a matter of location. I have had enough of listening to this. During the dig for my uncle, the information that was given was that there were two bodies there. Do these people realise how cruel that was to us? I have never spoken about this because I have to be delighted about the two bodies that were found but you have no idea of what I went through in those ten minutes before I arrived at that location. I would like to say to Paul Maskey that they have the power to do something for us when information is coming across. I am as entitled to that as every other victim, and so are the McVeighs and the Dorrians. We are all entitled to it. I thank the committee for listening to me.

I thank Ms Lynskey.

Ms Peake has already spoken about how the committee can support the work that WAVE is doing but I ask her to elaborate on how Operation Kenova works.

Ms Sandra Peake

I have been with WAVE for quite some time and have sat with families who have come through the RUC, the PSNI, An Garda Síochána and legacy and HET investigations. We deal with quite a number of families who are engaged in Operation Kenova. It is fair to say that at the start, they were very sceptical about what was a police-driven initiative led by an English police officer who was the chief constable of Bedfordshire police, Mr. Jon Boutcher. That operation was looking into the alleged actions of an informer who was involved in the army. People thought that it would be a whitewash or that they would get very little information. When we asked families at the start what level of trust and confidence they had in the process, we found that it was very low. They engaged but they did not expect to get anything from it.

Several things make Operation Kenova different from other legacy investigations and engagements with the police, one of which is the fact that it is victim-centred. Through their actions, those involved in that operation give honour and respect to the person who has died. Families are made to feel that their loved ones matter to the team. The team refers to them by name and they get to know the family.

The second issue is that there is continuity. A big problem with legacy investigations, including those involving An Garda Síochána, is that we are talking about serving police forces in which there is career progression. Senator Black might deal with me this month but in six months time it might be Senator Currie and in another year, it might be Senator Blaney. I can be passed from pillar to post continuously. That is one of the issues. Under Operation Kenova, however, there has been continuity. These men and women, the family liaison officers, have built up relationships with families that have continued and the same person has seen them through in relation to their case. The other issue is that the families have access to the head of the office, Mr. Jon Boutcher. They all have his mobile number and can go to him if there is a problem. They do not abuse that access but they have it. I have never seen any other investigation where a chief constable gives out his or her mobile number and tells people, "phone me if there is anything and I will answer it.". The investigators have taken the utmost care and sensitivity. They have acknowledged family difficulties around anniversaries or when there are difficulties within families or when families are being approached by others.

People on this call will know this already but it is important for everyone else to know that some families are smirked at in the street. The people who were involved in taking their loved ones use their name to let them know they are there. They stare them out. There is a level of closeness there in terms of the fact that it could be people who live in the next street or two street's away. The families might see them at church, at school gates or in the middle of Tesco. That is what really frustrates me about the legacy proposals. People do not understand that this is not something that is addressed for some families. They are living with the victimisation daily; it is continual. Operation Kenova has been very supportive in that context. Some of those families have been within that group and Operation Kenova has helped them when they have been approached and have continued to suffer victimisation. That is really important.

There are files in for prosecution but not all families have files in and families accept that. I have seen families get information that they never had previously. These are families that came through the HET process or through Ombudsman investigations and who were told that there was nothing beyond what they already knew. Operation Kenova has given them information they never had previously. The journey for Operation Kenova is as important as the end product. The British Government is saying that it has not succeeded because there have been no prosecutions but that is only because there are 30 files sitting in our public prosecution office that have not yet been addressed and directions given on prosecutions.

We have urged the political parties, and we urge the Irish Government, to come behind this. The Secretary of State keeps saying there is no agreement or alternative. As this process works for families, everyone should get behind it and support it. We need to put an end to the Secretary of State saying there is no agreement or that we cannot agree. Ms Kerr said she is not interested in the politics. I am interested in one thing only and that is the experience of the families and what they can get the best out of. They are getting the best out of this so I urge people to look at it. I ask the committee to invite Jon Boutcher to give a presentation to the committee in order that members can hear from him directly. This is a process I have seen delivering and we feel it should be upscaled.

Ms Morgan said that her sister Patsy died two weeks ago and Mr. McConville buried his brother a month ago. Processes to deal with the past are too late for them now but they represent so many others within our community who are dying daily without the answers they need. To me, Operation Kenova is the historical investigations unit, HIU, by a different name and it is therefore ready to go. It is the strands of accountability. It is about the policy and procedures, and the victim-centred care. It could readily deliver for families, particularly those who are terminally ill or those who have older relatives who want answers in their lifetimes. We do not have time on this issue. This is the last throw of the dice and we need to get it right.

I thank Ms Peake for that. I thank all the witnesses. My deepest condolences to Ms Morgan on losing her sister and to others who have lost loved ones. It is so hard. I thank the witnesses for coming in today to share their stories with us. It has been extremely moving. I cannot even imagine the trauma, pain and heartache they are going through.

We move on now to Aontú and Deputy Tóibín.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I was sorry to hear about the Cathaoirleach's own loss as well. I know it was a long time ago but pain like that remains within families. I apologise; I missed the Belfast meeting because I was a close contact of someone with Covid at the time so I had to restrict my movements.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations today. It is impossible to imagine the grief, loss and torture their families have been put through over that time. I also thank them for the powerful contributions they have made. It has been an education. I knew a lot about these cases and situations but until you see the human face of their impact it is impossible to understand the magnitude of it. In Meath, we know a good bit about the disappeared because the bodies of Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee were found in County Meath. Burying loved ones is a central part of the grieving process, as old as humanity itself. It is hard to see a greater wrong that can be committed against anybody. The point we hear over and over again when dealing with victims and survivors is that there is a generation of people who have not long to live and it is important that that information is given to them.

I agree with the pension scheme for victims and survivors of atrocities in the South. It is not something that is very regularly discussed in the South but we as a committee need to start raising it more in general discussions.

Most of the questions I was going to ask have been asked at this stage. Ms Morgan's contribution is very important. I was sorry to hear about the loss of her sister in the last few weeks. Face-to-face discussions with people involved in these actions are the key to this. I hear information that there are certain people who are willing to help but there are others who have just drawn a line under things and are not willing to participate in any way whatsoever. It is hard to underestimate the power of a person sitting in front of another individual as a moral lever, or crowbar, to see what can happen and if the right thing can be done.

I appeal to anyone with influence in this to see if those face-to-face meetings can happen and that all the details of what happened to those loved ones are made known, not just the locations.

We often hear that there is no hierarchy of victims. If there is no hierarchy of victims, those who have had loved ones disappeared are equally as entitled as those who lost loved ones to the Glenanne Gang, the British army or anyone else. There has to be full equality among victims on this.

Following Ms Peake's suggestion, I propose that the committee invite Mr. Jon Boutcher to discuss his work on trying to find out the truth about what happened on the past.

My next question is not an argument I am making but it is an argument that is sometimes made. What role has the passage of time played regarding the ability to get to the truth? What are the witnesses views on that? Can the independent commission be strengthened in any way to help with its work?

On the British policy of moving towards an amnesty, has WAVE looked at legal avenues to prevent the British from enforcing an amnesty which in my vie would be contrary to the Good Friday and Stormont House agreements and human rights law?

Mr. Oliver McVeigh

Most of the people at this meeting today are republicans. I am a republican as well. I am just not an Irish republican in the true sense of the word because I do not want anybody's blood to be shed. I would have nothing to do with anyone calling themselves republicans if they leave issues unlooked for and unanswered. We can talk all day about this but it all goes back to the same point. I say to Paul Maskey and all these other people in the republican movement and Sinn Féin, at the risk of being crude, that we do not want to talk to the monkeys; we want to talk to the organ grinders, have a meeting with them and see what we can do to go forward. We are all asking what can be done to move forward. The way forward is to raise it at the highest level.

Does anyone wish to answer Deputy Tóibín's questions?

Ms Sandra Peake

There was a search for Joe Lynskey in Wilkinstown. Ms Lynskey said it was 2008 before there was any confirmation. In 1999 when the list of the disappeared was released it was not complete. There were others who were not on it. Peter Wilson and Joe Lynskey were added later in 2008. One of the difficulties is that there may be people in the area who know something but do not know that it is significant. I say that because there were four cases in that area. There were Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee in Wilkinstown, Brendan Megraw was in Oristown and then there is Joe Lynskey. There has been a search for him in Wilkinstown and a limited search for him in Oristown. The search in Wilkinstown produced Seamus and Kevin which was good.

The parish priest reached out to the families and that was the first time. One of the things was trying to take it back into the heart of the community. People were very reluctant. They said there was a great shame in the area because this had happened in their locality. They had farmed and tended to those bogs and cut peat in them and there was an embarrassment that this had happened and those bodies had been buried in their midst.

They did not know how to reach out. The first thing for the families was to acknowledge that there was nothing to be embarrassed about. It was not their fault that the bodies had been taken to that area. There was something about the fact that they could actually provide help. We had a blessing of Oristown bog before one of the searches for Brendan Megraw. That search did not produce anything. The family of Philomena and Kevin McKee went round with the priest. Bishop Smith was very good to us at the time. He has since retired. He had empathy for the disappeared because he had lost a relative on 11 September 2001, so he knew the difficulties of when people did not come home and could not be buried. He had empathy with the families. He went and blessed Wilkinstown.

I said it to the other families when we were leaving. We had a warm welcome in Oristown. People came out to the bogland when there was the blessing there. That was a major occurrence for the families because they had never met the families and the families had never met them. They talked about the shame. On the way home, I asked if they wanted to see where Philomena McKee was. We went to Wilkinstown. Local people stopped and talked about some of what had been witnessed. Somebody had been coming along the road. They had heard something and described what it was. Looking back, when Kevin and Seamus were found, there was truth within that. A man had died but he had told another neighbour, who had passed it on. There is information in communities that they may not realise is significant. If the Deputy could do anything to bring it back into the heart of the community, that would help us.

At the end of the day, those bogs were chosen by somebody who knew the bogs. They had to know the landscape to know the best place to hide a body. The information may well lie within the community in some cases. I am not saying that everybody from the community was involved and do not think that, but that the community might be able to provide some information but does not know that it is significant to the commission. Anything that the Deputy can do to help us with Joe Lynskey would be welcome. All we want is his recovery. There is one thing which I know Mr. McVeigh will say, which made a difference in Crossmaglen. Charlie Armstrong was in his 50s. He disappeared one morning on his way to mass. His neighbour disappeared the year before. They were never claimed on any list but the families believe strongly that they were killed by the IRA. They were never accounted for. One issue was that there was silence in the area. We went back to do masses in the area. Crossmaglen Rangers was good at providing some signage at the grounds to let people know that there was a system and process in place. That was a major help in uncovering those two men, because it was brought to the heart of the community and the community wanted to address it. Those two men are now laid to rest in St. Patrick's graveyard in Crossmaglen. We cannot always rely on people who are still living in the area. They may already have moved out of the area, which is why there needs to be a wider publicity campaign. Anything that the Deputy can do in the local area would help.

I commit to raising it again in County Meath. I know the Wilkinstown area well. It is not far from where I live. I will talk to people in that area over the next while.

Ms Sandra Peake

We would welcome the opportunity to meet the Deputy directly, face-to-face, whenever the Covid restrictions lift.

Likewise. After the meeting, I might get in contact and have a chat.

Ms Sandra Peake

That would be great. I thank the Deputy.

I thank the Chair for the time.

Mr. Michael McConville

I want to make a point about my mother's case. The IRA gave information that our mother was buried on Templetown beach. My mother was eventually found on Shelling Hill beach. When they gave the examples of where they went on the beach in Templetown beach, to be fair to the IRA, Shelling Hill beach was similar.

They say that they walked across a wee stream. There is a stream on Templetown beach. There is also a stream on Shelling Hill beach. The mistake was made by the IRA in thinking that it was on Templetown beach. In other cases, mistakes could have been made as well. For example, in 1999, when the first digs appeared down on Templetown beach, we were standing there for 50 days. We got to know the local people. They were very good to us. An elderly man came to me. He was talking away, beside Templetown beach. He told me that I should ask them to go and dig on Shelling Hill beach because the IRA had two caravans on Templetown beach when they were on the run from the North. He said that he could not see them burying my mother on their own doorstep when they were on the run from the North. That man knew it was the other beach that they were talking about. I am trying to explain some similar things that could happen in the other cases too.

Very good. Gabhaim buíochas leis faoi sin. I thank Mr. McConville for that.

We have finished our first round. There are a couple of people who may not have made a contribution yet and who might like to do so. Senator McGahon, if he is there, can have his say. We have 20 minutes left. Deputy Tóibín wants to raise some separate issues with us at the end of the meeting. I suggest that we stop at 4.20 p.m., if that is okay. Everybody will have contributed then. I take it Deputy Tóibín will be happy with that. After Senator McGahon finishes, we will ask Ms Peake to wrap up from WAVE Trauma Centre's perspective.

I sincerely apologise for only coming on this call at 3 p.m. This is one of the most important meetings that I have been involved in since becoming a member of this committee more than 18 months ago. I will watch all of the testimony later this evening, from the start to the point that I missed, on the Oireachtas website because it is so important. While I have not met many of the witnesses yet, I had the privilege of meeting and speaking to Mr. McConville in Belfast a number of weeks ago.

There are a couple of points I would like to make, particularly as, after three hours, many of the questions have already been asked. When I visited Belfast and we met with the Ballymurphy and Springhill families, I was struck by the blanket of support that was wrapped around them by politicians from every political party and none, by civil society and by the Governments, North and South. When we visited the WAVE Trauma Centre, we met Mr. McConville and others. What stuck me was how it paled in comparison when I considered that these were families by themselves, with little or no political support, trying to trudge along with it. They were not having their cases championed by political parties. They were not having their cases brought to Westminster, the Dáil or Stormont. They have been trudging along by themselves on a lonely path for the past 40 years. That was the comparison. The reason is because their loved ones were murdered by republicans and people involved in the IRA. The irony of it is the concept of a hierarchy of victims. It is trotted out, time and again, that there is no hierarchy of victims. There bloody well is a hierarchy of victims, and the families of the disappeared are at the very bottom of that ladder as far as I am concerned. That is as clear as day from listening to the contributions of the family members today.

The first real injustice that was committed was the murder of their family members and the evil acts that they were. The second injustice that was inflicted on family members of the disappeared was the blackening of their names for decades afterwards and the ostracisation of their families by their communities in order to try to justify why their family members were taken away and murdered.

The third real injustice is the fact that the bodies of their loved ones have not been returned to them. I believe those are the three greatest injustices that have been committed against them.

The concept is what Sinn Féin can do. I find it difficult when the same line is trotted out whereby Sinn Féin asks everyone to go ahead and give information and asks anyone with information to do this. That is very easy to say. I am not asking that Deputy McDonald or someone comes out and says that Sinn Féin wants to do this. What I am asking is similar to what Deputy Tóibín asked. There are people in Sinn Féin today who were IRA gunmen. There are people in Sinn Féin today who took lives and murdered people. As Deputy Tóibín said, some of those people are not willing to help and have drawn a line under this. It would be really useful, and we are not asking to make a whole rigmarole of this, if Sinn Féin went back privately to those people and told them it wants them to do this, that it understands times have changed and events have been forgotten but it wants them to look at this again. Three people are buried somewhere in cold, dark Irish soil who have not been returned to their loved ones. Sinn Féin should say it wants to do this if it is serious about there being no hierarchy of victims. That is something I believe the Sinn Féin Party could do.

I come from Dundalk in County Louth. Dundalk and north Louth were on the front line of the Northern Irish Troubles for so long and bore the brunt of it for so long. I think regularly about the family of Tom Oliver, whom I know personally. When I listen to conversations of family members today, I think the Oliver family must thank their lucky stars that Tom was found. His body was dumped on the side of a road so at least he could be found and buried.

I will follow up on what Mr. McConville said. Again, I know the part of the world he spoke about extremely well. There is not much distance between Temple Hill beach and Shelling Hill beach. It shows the importance of what a local person in the Cooley Peninsula to tell Mr. McConville that, based on that information, he was able to provide information about the location of caravans in which members of the IRA used to hide out. Based on that information from a local person, he was able to provide very useful information.

When I contribute at committee meetings, I tend to ask questions. As the final speaker, I felt it was important to make a statement on a matter on which I have had deeply-held beliefs for many years. Having to listen to the pain and trauma these families have gone through and continue to go through has been one of the toughest moments for me, as a Member of the Oireachtas.

There is a very simple way this can be resolved. I am not being political about it. The point is that if Sinn Féin, which is in government in the North aspires to be in government in the Republic, wants to move forward towards a shared island in which we can all live, how will it be able to do so when people in its own organisation know where these three or four people are buried and continue to stay quiet? That is my view on it. Sinn Féin knows what it must do. Empty words and platitudes are not good enough now. Oliver McVeigh said he is willing to talk to anyone and wants to do so. I cannot speak for the families but they just want to find their loved ones and take them home, as any of us, as normal, decent human beings, would. Let us be decent human beings and make sure these people come home to their families where they belong.

We do not have much time left and I am conscious that people wish to speak.

Ms Anne Morgan

What Senator McGahon just said is exactly the way it has been. It has been the families standing alone. We had WAVE behind us alright but it has been the resilience of the families standing alone and making it known that their loved one has been disappeared and buried secretly somewhere. The Senator brought up the idea of the isolation you feel when somebody in your family has been disappeared.

Communities and neighbours want to isolate you. No one wants to speak about it. Over time, you know the person you are looking for has died but no one commiserates with you. It is not the same as when a person dies and is buried within three or four days. People just do not talk about it. In my case, it was only when my brother was found that the community stood with me. For 32 years, they all stood silently somewhere away from me. It was only my close friends and family who were close to me. The community was away from me.

When Seamus was found, the local bishop at the time, Bishop McAreavey, said the town had let out a big sigh of relief that Seamus was found. That was the way it was. When Seamus was buried, it was a big occasion and a big day for the people to come out and give us support. However, we did not get that support in the years before Seamus was found. People were reluctant to openly show they were supporting us. When you are going through it, you do not realise it is happening and you are being ostracised. Nobody wants to speak about your loved one being murdered and secretly buried. No one wants to take notice of it. It is good that we are able to speak about it before this committee and to let members know that the families are still together. During our campaign, if we lost family from our local areas, we gained a very big and enriching family within the WAVE organisation. The Senator made a point about the families being on their own and that is exactly the way it is.

We are running tight on time. I see Deputy Brendan Smith has his hand up. We must finish before 4.30 p.m., which is a difficulty. There was a suggestion from one of our members that Ms Peake might like to summarise what she would like to happen and to share her views in that regard, if that is okay. I call Deputy Brendan Smith.

I want to say again that the contributions by Ms Peake and all our guests today have been powerful and compelling. There has been clarity in the manner in which they have outlined the terrible grief and suffering of families. I said at the outset that we should have a commemoration in Dublin, similar to that held by the families in Stormont each year, to try to keep a focus and create an awareness of this issue. It would also show that we stand with the families and abhor the fact that the families were shunned by some people in their communities over the years. As the Oireachtas, we should mark the events. Perhaps the committee secretariat could speak to Ms Peake about that in the future. I think we should do that publicly.

Senator McGahon said the Dáil had shown no interest in this matter over the years. For the sake of accuracy, I want to point out that I, for one, and I can only speak for myself, have raised this issue many times over the years. At my request, this committee met representatives of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains a number of times and I previously suggested that representatives of WAVE be invited before the committee. Some of us have raised the issue many times in the Dáil and will continue to do so.

I am conscious of the time. I see Senator Currie wants to say something and I will be happy to take her contribution.

Before I do, I thank all of our witnesses, Ms Anne Morgan, Mr. Oliver McVeigh, Ms Dympna Kerr, Ms Maria Lynskey, Mr. Michael McConville and Ms Sandra Peake for the fantastic way they showed us what is in their hearts and minds and what will give everybody closure at the end of this awful chapter in their lives, which has gone on for so long.

Senator Currie has something to say.

I want to pick up on what Senator McGahon said there. I think what the Senator meant was that the people who could do the most did not do what they could do both at the meeting and in the past. My father was a TD up until 2002. He arranged meetings with the families of the disappeared and raised the issue plenty of times in the Dáil as well. As I said earlier, the disappeared are never far from my thoughts and my family's thoughts. The SDLP and the Alliance Party talk about thee disappeared a great deal, as has the Fine Gael Party, including Senator McGahon.

We do not need the Stormont House Agreement to come to a resolution of this issue. The people who have the answers can bring them forward to give peace to the families. I sincerely hope that today's meeting has moved that along and will send out a clear message that the disappeared are not forgotten. The idea of a publicity campaign is a good one. Anything we can do to bring peace to the families and bring their loved ones home, we will do.

Quite so. Before we finish, I will call on Ms Peake to recap on some of the issues we have to deal with. We have not told the families this but the committee agreed at a previous meeting to visit the places where the remains are believed to be. We hope to do that. We got the consent of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains to do that, which is very important.

I note that Ms Morgan's battle was fantastically fought and eventually successfully won. We have met as a committee with the republican ex-prisoners and, maybe, through the support of Mr. Paul Maskey and other bona fide Sinn Féin members of this committee, which I respect, it might be useful to arrange that process, if that makes sense. The best way to do that would be through Ms Peake, if that is not too much to ask. That might be a constructive way to engage. All political parties have to engage. Meetings between the leadership of Sinn Féin and the families would be very important. We should, again through Ms Peake, request that Deputy McDonald meet with the families. Those are the constructive things we can do and I hope we can all agree on them. If anyone wishes to raise other issues, that can be done in private session in a couple of minutes.

It has been very productive, emotional and powerful to witness the pain and suffering of our guests. The obvious solution is to find the remains of the disappeared and bury them in a Christian way.

Ms Sandra Peake

On behalf of all of us, I thank the committee. We have appreciated the opportunity to appear it.

It has been deeply painful. I am conscious that Michael McConville's mum's anniversary has just passed. She was taken 49 years ago. I always want to remember those who have walked along the way and journeyed, yet are no longer with us. It was a sad day burying Patsy McAteer recently and burying Archie McConville before that. Archie always carried what happened to his mum with him right to the very end.

There are a number of things. Whatever the committee can do for publicity, we ask members please do not forget the families of the disappeared and please let this have a legacy beyond today. It has been very painful for families to come to the meeting. Members will have other priorities, hear other cases and have other constituency issues matters of government to deal with but this needs to be addressed for these families. This is their legacy and there is no peace until we give those families what they rightfully need.

Joe Lynskey, Columba McVeigh, Robert Nairac and Lisa Dorrian all need to be returned to their families. Any other families out there who believe their loved ones have been disappeared also need to have a mechanism to bring that forward and to highlight it.

We need help locally from members. I urge anybody who can to help us to do so in their area, such as Senator McGahon with Robert Nairac, Deputy Tóibín in Meath and Deputy Brendan Smith and whoever else in Monaghan. They might not realise that what they have is significant, but it could be very significant for the commission.

We urge Sinn Féin to please go back to the start and look at these cases and reassess them. This needs to be addressed. We have shown that with additional pressure from the families and additional work, we can recover bodies. The commission has demonstrated that its work only works because the information comes to it. It is important to acknowledge the information that has come to date.

Disappearing people is the cruellest of acts. I buried my own father. I know where he is. We can mark and honour his place of burial. These families do not have that. Members might not know that the mothers put their sons names on the headstones before they died, handing the responsibility to the next generation. Anne Morgan's mother put Seamus's name on the headstone. Vera McVeigh did the same. The same was done for Joe Lynskey. Brendan Megraw's mother did the same. That is very powerful. Imagine having a headstone with a name on it and no body in the grave. These families need the bodies to be returned.

People are getting older and it is getting harder. Those with information are getting older and it is getting harder. We need a push on this now, not to come back in a year's time to say we have made no progress. We need help. As the circle is getting smaller, it is becoming harder for the families to wait. Oliver McVeigh always says that. He says that when they were part of a bigger group and lots of people were disappeared, somehow it was a bit easier but as the circle has got smaller, the families are asking if they are going to be the only people not to have their loved ones returned. That has become very hard. That is said within the solidarity of support that is provided by WAVE and through the families of the disappeared, who are an amazingly supportive group. I urge members to do everything they can in terms of publicity and policy to help the families and to not forget about them.

Regarding the injured pension, the legacy for the injured is to be looked after with dignity in their older age and to have respect and dignity. I urge members to please move that forward to ensure equity. I ask members to continue to push on the issue of legacy because that is hurting families. It is painful. Families are distraught at the thought of what may come. I urge committee members to do anything they can, individually and collectively, and to please continue to do it.

Members are welcome to come to WAVE at any time. The families wear a little badge, which is a little forget-me-not designed by Anne Morgan. I will send some of them to the committee and when they are next in, I would ask them to wear the badges in solidarity with the families and in remembrance of them. People will ask what they are and then that allows us to open up the discussion and to ensure this is not forgotten.

I thank Ms Peake very much. I very much appreciate her time, effort, professionalism and courtesy. This is the next step on the way. We fully support WAVE. We will communicate with Ms Peake after the meeting.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.29 p.m. and adjourned at 4.34 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Thursday, 16 December 2021.