Forty-five years is a long time to wait for anything. Yet the family of Joe Lynskey, missing since 1972, has not given up on finding his body. Neither has the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR), which has carried out extensive searches for Joe since the IRA admitted to his murder in 2010.
Two years ago there was hope when first one body and then another were found in a boggy area the size of eight football fields. But those remains belonged to two other missing men, Kieran McKee and Seamus Wright. Joe, a former Cistercian monk, remains one of four of the original 16 “Disappeared” – victims of republican paramilitary groups who were killed and secretly buried – who have yet to be found.
Yet hope remains. As I write this, the ICLVR has discovered the body of Seamus Ruddy, a young teacher from my hometown of Newry, killed by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in France in 1985.
Of the others who remain lost, Columba McVeigh was just 17 when he was taken. His last letter to his mother, written only days before, was signed “from your big son”. She died without knowing his fate. Robert Nairac, a British Army captain, had been infiltrating the IRA when he went missing. Despite the lack of a body, several men have been convicted of his murder.
The ICLVR will keep searching for the three, but there’s a growing awareness that time is running out. At the annual Mass for the Disappeared last month, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh renewed calls for people to come forward now. Memories are dimming. The recent death of Martin McGuinness is a reminder that those involved may no longer be with us.
The commission was set up in 1999 as part of the apparatus of the Good Friday Agreement intended to deal with the difficult issue of victims. In a province where former sworn enemies were governing together, and forgiveness was the order of the day, what could be done for those families still clamouring for answers? As with so many parts of that historic deal, a compromise was reached. The commission receives information and looks for bodies, but does not prosecute based on what it finds. Chief searcher Geoff Knupfer, who also led the hunt for victims of the Moors murderers, says: “We are not in the business of recovering truth. That is someone else’s job.”
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection