Emotional Shatter promises support for families of missing

Missing Persons Day to become an annual event

Homing pigeons are released into the sky at the launch of Ireland’s inaugural Missing Persons Day in Farmleigh House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Homing pigeons are released into the sky at the launch of Ireland’s inaugural Missing Persons Day in Farmleigh House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


The first Wednesday in every December is to be designated Missing Persons Day, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced yesterday.

The Minister appeared to be on the verge of tears when he spoke of the sense of devastation felt by the family of Philip Cairns, the 13-year-old Dublin schoolboy who disappeared on his way back to school on October 23rd, 1986.

Mr Shatter, who encountered the family as a TD in the area, told a ceremony at Farmleigh House to mark the inaugural Missing Persons Day: “Since that time, whenever I learn of someone missing, I always think of Philip, the distress of his family following that terrible day and the dreadful feeling of helplessness when time continued to pass and there was no information about him forthcoming.

“I know this is a feeling shared by those of you here with us this morning who have a missing family member.”He promised Government support for a Bill arising from the Law Reform Commission’s report on the civil law aspects of missing persons.

He said he would be working over the coming months to fine-tune and develop the Bill to facilitate its enactment into law.

“I believe there is scope to provide a mechanism for some closure for families in legal terms where a loved one is missing for a number of years,” he said. “It is important that, in such circumstances, family matters in abeyance in relation to property and money issues can be carefully addressed and resolved.”

Those in attendance at Farmleigh House included the relatives of Ellen Brown, Jo Jo Dullard, Deirdre Jacobs, Josephine Pender, Annie McCarrick, Fiona Sinnott and Trevor Deely, and several relatives of the Disappeared, who were killed by the Provisional IRA and buried in unmarked graves.

Those remembered include Brendan Megraw, who disappeared in 1978, Séamus Ruddy, missing since 1985, and Jean McConville, who was represented by one of her 10 children, Susie Townlee. In addition, there were tributes to those whose remains were never identified and Irish people who died abroad.

Compere and RTÉ journalist Barry Cummins, who has written books on missing persons, said it was apt that the State was recognising the pain of relatives left behind.

“Looking at the images of some of our missing, it’s the sheer scale of the numbers of unsolved cases that still shocks,” he said. “Dozens upon dozens of people who have vanished in the last four decades from all corners.”

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the disappearance of Sandra Collins, who disappeared from Killala in Co Mayo.

Dermot Browne, the chairman of Missing in Ireland Support Services (MISS) pointed out that there were 8,815 missing person reports last year, including 6,944 that were classified as high risk.

Since MISS was founded in 2003 there had been some 48,000 reports of missing persons, he said, the equivalent the combined populations of Athlone and Naas.