Garda search for missing woman Aoife Phelan focused on river

Wed, Nov 7, 2012, 00:00

Two Garda water unit divers yesterday searched until dark along a stretch of the river Barrow below the M7 motorway for missing woman Aoife Phelan.

The woman (30), who was four months pregnant, disappeared 13 days ago. Gardaí believe she has been murdered.

They are investigating the possibility that Ms Phelan’s body was thrown from the motorway into the river.

A separate search at a house on the Timahoe Road, 4km outside Portlaoise was also suspended as light faded last night.

A digger had been brought in to excavate land at the rear of the property.

Man arrested

A 24-year-old man who had been arrested on suspicion of the murder of Ms Phelan remained in custody at Portlaoise Garda station last night. He was held under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.

A section of the M7 motorway near Monasterevin was closed off for about four hours yesterday to allow a Garda team access to the river Barrow and its bank below the motorway. It was reopened shortly after 4pm.

A vehicle had also been seized by gardaí and closed-circuit television footage which may give clues to Ms Phelan’s movements on the night of her disappearance has also been examined.

Ms Phelan had disappeared after leaving a friend’s house at Collier’s View in Portlaoise shortly after 8pm on October 25th. The alarm was raised when she failed to arrive at the home of her employers in the Hermitage, Portlaoise, where she worked as a live-in nanny. One of 12 siblings, Ms Phelan was reported missing by her family, who live just outside Ballyroan, 10km from Portlaoise.

The family home, a grey bungalow on a quiet road, was yesterday inundated with visitors. Ms Phelan’s mother, Betty, who had issued a plea for information earlier in the week, was being supported by family and friends.

Residents of Ballyroan, a quiet one-street village, expressed their shock and sadness at the disappearance of Ms Phelan and the subsequent arrest of a local man in connection with it.

Close-knit community

As they collected children from Ballyroan Boys’ National School few in the close-knit community were prepared to talk and most of those who did were uncomfortable about being named.

Gillian Fitzgerald, who was shopping in a local store, said she was shocked at the news.

“We are all numb; when something like this comes to your own locality it’s so awful. I have a 20-year-old girl – they go out one minute and then who knows. I just hope they get an end to it all.”

Another local said Ms Phelan’s large extended family was devastated.