Northern Ireland news

State papers: Files shine light on Disappeared

Helen McConville and her husband Seamus McKendry continue to campaign for the return of the Disappeared on behalf of other families
Éamon Phoenix

THE first contact between the families of the Disappeared - civilians murdered by the IRA during the Troubles and their bodies secretly buried - is detailed in the new files.

In June 1995, pressure group Families of the Disappeared was formed by Seamus McKendry, whose mother-in-law, Jean McConville was among those killed by the IRA.

On June 16, 1994, Mr McKendry wrote to British Prime Minister John Major seeking a meeting.

In a background note, an NIO official observed that during the Troubles up to 20 people "had been interrogated and tortured by the IRA before being disappeared without trace".

The official said, while most allegations related to the IRA, loyalist abduction and murder could not be ruled out and the police had "very little information".

Government representatives had raised the issue with Sinn Féin during the exploratory dialogue.

The official said: "Sinn Féin had come under pressure both in Ireland and internationally to help locate the bodies."

US President Bill Clinton had recently urged action to be taken on the Disappeared and Mr McKendry said the IRA had contacted him and promised to have the bodies located "but nothing had happened" and he felt they were being given "the run-around".

In response to the group's request for a meeting at 10 Downing Street, Mr Major's private secretary, Edward Oakden said it might be inappropriate.

In a letter to Mr McKendry, Mr Oakden said Mr Major supported the families' campaign and "governmental pressure would be directed at Sinn Féin".

He suggested a meeting with NIO security minister Sir John Wheeler.

In a further note, dated July 7, 1992, Diane Phillips of the Security Policy and Operations Division at the NIO, referred to recent press reports that the bodies of IRA victims had been buried on Black Mountain, outside Belfast.

She said a meeting with the security minister would help maintain pressure on Sinn Féin and the IRA and a meeting was agreed at Stormont Castle on September 7, 1995.

Mr McKendry was accompanied by Margaret McKinney and Mrs McClory, whose son's friends Brian McKinney (22) and John McClory (18) had been abducted while going to work and murdered in 1978.

The NIO notes said: "The families believe that John jumped through a window and was shot in the back. Brian had witnessed this and he was taken out and shot."

Their bodies were thought to have been buried in Glencollin estate, close to their parents' homes.

In a further memo, dated August 28 1995, Linda Meldrum of the NIO revealed that a team of officers from the RUC Serious Crime Squad had been set up to investigate nine reported cases.

The official counselled Sir John Wheeler to listen sympathetically to the families' tragic stories and assure them of the government's sympathy.

Mr McKendry said they feared being used as a "political bargaining piece", for example, "if the government was to lighten up on decommissioning, Sinn Féin/IRA might give up a body or two".

He was assured there was no question of being held to ransom and that the matter of decommissioning was "one of democracy".

Mr McKendry also revealed that Sinn Féin councillor, Richard McAuley had visited him on behalf of Gerry Adams and suggested that information might become available "at the right time".

He said the families believed that that time was now.


Provisional IRA murder victim Jean McConville, whose body was found at Templetown beach in Co Louth on 28 August 2003

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