The search for the Disappeared victims of the Troubles will never stop until their remains have been found, Ireland’s Justice Minister has vowed.
Simon Harris made the pledge as he visited the remote Bragan Bog in Co Monaghan where a painstaking dig for missing teenager Columba McVeigh is ongoing.
Mr McVeigh, 19, from Donaghmore in Co Tyrone, was murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1975.
Mr Harris and cabinet colleague Heather Humphreys, a TD for Cavan and Monaghan, met Mr McVeigh’s brother Oliver and sister Dympna at the site on Monday.
The ministers thanked the team from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR), which is conducting the extensive search of the expansive bogland.
“I wanted to be here today to make it absolutely crystal clear that these families will never be forgotten, and that this work will not stop,” Mr Harris said.
“For as long as it takes, for whatever resources are required, the Government will stand shoulder to shoulder with the families of the Disappeared.”
He said he wanted the McVeigh family to be given “some element of closure”.
“I am acutely conscious of the fact that the families of the Disappeared have endured a singular cruelty, not only the loss and the brutal murder of a loved one, but then the depravity attached to not providing them with the opportunity to say goodbye,” Mr Harris said.
“During my time as Minister for Justice, I have been really struck by the incredible resilience of the families of the Disappeared. They’ve touched my heart and will always have a special place in it.”
The minister thanked the ICLVR for its “extraordinary work”.
He added: “But the work is not done. And it is the view of the commission that Columba is here in this bog behind us.
“And I know that the team here are doing everything they possibly can to find him and to bring him back to his family.”
Oliver McVeigh thanked the workers searching for his brother’s remains “every day”.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be here. You know, they’re tediously going through this stuff. It’s very, very tedious to go through all the digging and check everything,” he said.
“Because they don’t really get any recognition. And as I said, without them, we wouldn’t really be here.”
Columba’s sister Dympna Kerr also thanked the ICLVR team.
She said: “We all know how important a wake is and a funeral. At the end of the day, that’s why we’re here.”
Ms Kerr also referenced a recent tweet from former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in which he spoke about the importance of Irish wakes.
“It’s as important for us as well,” she added.
Minister Humphreys said: “It’s important that we don’t forget what happened here almost 50 years ago – a young man was brought into this bog and when I came up in the car you see the diggers and you think to yourself you don’t know what the next bucket will pull up.
“It’s so hard for the family because every time they come here they relive part of that grief they felt all those years ago, it comes back to them again.
“So it’s important that we keep the focus here, it’s important that we find the remains of Columba McVeigh, and I just want to say thank you to the workers and the commission and all the archaeologists here.”
Several Irish parliamentarians from the Cavan Monaghan constituency also attended Monday’s visit, as did senator Emer Currie who helped organise the event.
Seventeen people were disappeared by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles.
Aided by the commission, which was set up by the UK and Irish governments to investigate their whereabouts, 13 have been found over the last two decades.
The remains of Mr McVeigh, former monk Joe Lynskey, British Army Captain Robert Nairac and Seamus Maguire, who was in his mid-20s and from near Lurgan, Co Armagh, have never been recovered.
Co Down hairdresser Lisa Dorrian, who vanished in the post-Troubles era from a caravan park in Ballyhalbert, Co Down, in 2005, is now considered one of the remaining five Disappeared victims whose bodies are yet to be found.
Republican paramilitaries were not suspected in her case.
Mr Harris appealed for anyone with information on the location of the remains of the Disappeared to come forward.
He said the success of the independent commission was “based on people coming forward with information”.
Mr Harris added: “It’s people who have brought forward information that has brought us to the point today in terms of the ongoing intense search of the bog.
“Of course, we continue to urge anybody with any information about any of the Disappeared to please come forward, it is never too late.”
He said there are structures in place where that information is given in “complete and utter confidence” and can only be used for the location of remains.