A fresh search for the remains of IRA victim Columba McVeigh is to begin on Monday on a section of Co Monaghan bogland.
McVeigh, from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, is part of a group of 16 victims known as the Disappeared who were abducted, murdered and secretly buried by republicans during the conflict in Northern Ireland.
He was “disappeared” by the IRA in October 1975, when he was aged 19.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) – established by an intergovernmental agreement between the Irish and British governments in 1999 – has said after a scoping exercise earlier this year its team of forensic investigators will be examining a one acre section of Bragan bog near Emyvale, Co Monaghan, from Monday.
Since 1999, four extensive searches for McVeigh, the most recent ending in September 2013, have been carried out on Bragan bog, initially by the Garda and subsequently by the commission.
So far 13 of the 16 Disappeared victims have been recovered.
The remains of McVeigh and two other men, former Cistercian monk Joe Lynskey and British army captain Robert Nairac, are unaccounted for.
The start of the new search coincides with the 21st anniversary of McVeigh's father's death. Dympna Kerr, a sister of the missing man, spoke of their father dying not knowing where his son was buried, and of the torment the last 43 years have been for the family.
“It’s 21 years ago today that Dad died not knowing where Columba was buried,” she said. “As every year passes we ask ‘for how much longer must this go on?’ I can only hope and pray that the torment will end.”
Geoff Knupfer, the ICLVR's lead forensic investigator, said: "We remain convinced that Columba was buried in Bragan bog and over the last five years since the last unsuccessful search we have been working to refine the search area. "That is what often has to be done when we are searching for a body that has been buried somewhere in a vast expanse of bog over 40 years ago.
"That's what happened in the search for Brendan Megraw, whose remains we found in October 2014 in Oristown bog, Co Meath, some 15 years after searching commenced.
"And we were close to the burial place of Seamus Ruddy in an earlier search before we recovered his remains in France in May last year.
“But ‘close’ is not good enough. The fact that we are back on Bragan bog for a fresh search does not mean that anyone who has information about where Columba is buried should assume that it is no longer relevant.”
Ms Kerr spoke of her family’s ordeal, and of the strength taken from the thoughts and prayers of others.
“For years I couldn’t bring myself to stand on that bog where we were eventually told that Columba was buried. I went to it earlier this year and it’s a bleak and desolate place, and I cannot bear the thought that Columba is out there when he should be beside our Mum and Dad.
“Knowing that the ICLVR will do everything they possibly can to bring Columba home and also knowing that we have the thoughts and prayers of the other families of the Disappeared gives me the strength to face the coming days and weeks.”
Jon Hill, a senior investigator with the ICLVR, who will take charge of the initial phase of the search, said while the area they were concentrating on was relatively small compared to some of the searches carried out in the past, each one presented its own challenges. “So I don’t want to put a definitive time frame on it. Obviously we hope that we have an early success but if that’s not the case then we’ll press on for as long as it takes.”
Anyone with information on the Disappeared can contact the ICLVR in confidence by calling 00800 555 85500, by email to secretary_at_iclvr.ie; in writing to ICLVR, PO Box 10827, Dublin 2; or via the website http://iclvr.ie/