The organisation charged with finding the remains of those who “disappeared” during the Troubles has said securing crucial information is their “greatest challenge” more than four decades later.
Just three of an original list of 16 Disappeared have yet to be located by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains since it was established in 1999.
At a hearing of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the commission said the passage of time is now creating difficulties.
Chief investigator Geoff Knupfer outlined details of the remaining cases. Joe Lynskey vanished in August, 1972, and is believed to be buried in the Coghalstown area of Co Meath; the remains of Columba McVeigh, who went missing in November, 1975, are thought to be in Bragan, Co Monaghan.
However, Mr Knupfer spoke in particular about Capt Robert Nairac, the undercover British army officer who disappeared in May, 1977, and the only case on which they had received no information.
Responding to a question from committee vice-chairman and Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach, Mr Knupfer said the body had not been destroyed in a local meat processing factory. He said this rumour had been created as a distraction.
The absence of information on Nairac’s fate is thought to have been the result of his being a British officer and of his rumoured links to several “atrocities”.
He was abducted from a pub and taken to Ravensdale, Co Louth, where he was murdered. His body was moved and buried secretly. Several people were subsequently convicted of his killing.
“No information whatsoever has been passed to the commission as to his whereabouts,” Mr Knupfer told the committee.
“We believe that this could well be because he was a British soldier. And that since his death his name has been linked in several books and articles with five killings and atrocities.”
The commission took the “very unusual” step of researching his background, unearthing facts that contradicted those allegations, he said.
“He was a very junior officer and would not have had free rein. Neither was he tasked with handling informants, sources as part of that role.”
Mr Knupfer said the research had placed him away from the areas where the killings to which he was linked had occurred and this was substantiated by witness testimony.
The commission members last appeared before the committee six years ago and had, meanwhile, uncovered the remains of four of the Disappeared – Brendan Megraw, Séamus Wright, Kevin McKee and Séamus Ruddy.
"The receipt of information is our greatest asset and the pursuit of information remains our greatest challenge," said co-commissioner Kenneth Bloomfield.
“It is now over 40 years since the last three victims disappeared and the passage of time creates obvious difficulties.”
The commission has appealed for information on the remaining three cases, stressing it cannot be given to other agencies or used for prosecutions.
Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile said obtaining such knowledge was “of critical importance given that closing window” of opportunity.
Reinforcing the appeal, co-commissioner Frank Murray said: "All we want is the information that will lead us to the right place."