Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has called on anyone with information in relation to 17 people known as the ‘Disappeared’, who were killed and secretly buried by paramilitaries during the North’s Troubles, to come forward to an independent commission.
Ms McEntee was speaking as a new search began in Co Monaghan on Monday for Columba McVeigh, who was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1975.
The body of the 19-year-old has never been found despite successive searches carried out in Bragan Bog near Emyvale between 1999 and 2019.
He is among the 17 people known as the Disappeared who were killed and secretly buried by paramilitaries during the Troubles. Four, including Mr McVeigh, are still missing.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) is responsible for facilitating the location of the remains of victims of paramilitary violence.
Ms McEntee said on Monday her thoughts were with the family of Mr McVeigh “at this difficult time”.
“We all hope that this latest search at Bragan Bog in County Monaghan will be successful,” she said.
“I recently met with the Commission and their dedication to their task is clear. The families of the Disappeared have had to endure a particular cruelty, facing not only the tragedy and injustice of losing a loved one to murder, but not knowing for decades where that loved one was buried.
“At this time we think also of the other families who still await the return of their loved ones’ remains.”
Ms McEntee said the Commission’s investigations are “complicated and difficult”, and information from the public is “crucial” to its work.
“Someone out there may know something that might help. I would call on anyone with information that could help recover the remains of those still missing to pass that information to the Commission without delay, safe in the knowledge that it will be treated in the strictest confidence,” she added.
Mr McVeigh’s brother Oliver said Columba was left to die “like a dog”.
“We’ve had days like this before and disappointment before. It’s a bleak area. Just imagine taking a 19-year-old out here, walking him out and shooting him like a dog, burying him like a dog and leaving him there, to be never found again. Horrific.”
Oliver McVeigh, who was aged 14 when his older brother disappeared, said the family want to give him a Christian burial.
He was joined at the search site on Monday by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, a patron of the Wave Trauma Centre and supporter of the families of the Disappeared.
Mr Nesbitt said the families of the Disappeared have been made to suffer for decades.
“They don’t want revenge, they don’t want an investigation, they just want their loved ones home,” he said. - Additional reporting PA.