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Disappeared search must continue

OF all the deadly and vile acts perpetrated during the Troubles, surely one of the most grotesque was the republican practice of abducting, murdering and secretly burying their victims.

Sixteen people, known collectively as the Disappeared, were killed between 1972 and 1985. The IRA has admitted responsibility for 13 of the deaths.

The victims were not only robbed of life - as were so many others - but also dehumanised in ways which carried particular resonance in Irish society: stripped completely of their dignity; denied a Christian burial and the traditional decencies of mourning which mean so much to bereaved families; consigned to unmarked graves in nameless and silent bogs and beaches.

The suggestion that they had somehow deserved such egregious treatment because they were guilty of some imagined and unproven crime against the movement or - worse - their community only made the plight of the families seem more desperate, more tribal and intimate.

Little wonder, then, that the families of the Disappeared and many others have been unimpressed by senior republicans who connive in the sort of "civilised outrage" of which Seamus Heaney wrote, with their simultaneous appeals for information and denials of all knowledge of a practice which they now condemn.

Against this unpromising and uniquely complex background, the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, set up in 1999 following the Good Friday Agreement, has enjoyed some success, with the remains of 10 victims so far recovered.

It is hoped that remains discovered this week in the latest painstaking search of bogland near Coghalstown in Co Meath are those of two more of the Disappeared.

The bodies, dumped one on top of the other, are thought to be those of Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee, both abducted and murdered by the IRA in Belfast in October 1972.

The men's remains were found while forensic investigators were searching for Joe Lynskey, a former monk who also went missing from Belfast in 1972.

Geoff Knupfer from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains has spoken of how the families of the men who have visited the grave area have felt sadness and elation.

"Sadness that it confirms, assuming that the identities are confirmed, that their loved ones were abducted and murdered, and then the elation that they will get some closure at the end of this," he said.

As the search continues, it is vital that those who know anything about where the remaining bodies are buried make it known.

Only when all of the Disappeared have been returned to their families will one of the worst chapters written during the Troubles be allowed to inch towards its close.

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