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Sunday 23 September 2018

Exhumed body 'teenage IRA victim'

A body exhumed from a churchyard cemetery where it was secretly buried is suspected to be a teenage IRA victim murdered 35 years ago.

The remains were dug up from a family plot in Co Monaghan - the same region where several digs have taken place for Columba McVeigh, one of the so-called Disappeared of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Relatives of the 17-year-old, abducted and murdered in October 1975, face several agonising weeks for forensic tests to confirm the identity.

A priest, Father Joe McVeigh, tipped off authorities a year and a half ago that a man had given him information about a secret burial beside Urbleshanny Church near Scotstown.

The Fermanagh-based priest said he notified the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains within days of being told.

"They said that they would need more details and better information than I was able to provide them with. They said it did not correspond with their information," said Fr McVeigh, who is no relation to the Disappeared victim.

"The man who told me said, 'I know you have an interest in human rights'. That was the only reason he asked to speak to me."

Oliver McVeigh, Columba's brother, said the family would be waiting for the outcome of DNA tests.

"I'm not too hopeful but you can never lose hope. It's a possibility," he said.

"But you never lose hope. My mother died in hope and I'm here living her life and breathing her breath and hopefully we'll get the result. We are hopeful but we don't want to build anything up until the DNA comes out."

Fifteen men and one woman were murdered and secretly buried by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles.

Nine bodies have been recovered. One of the dead, Eugene Simons, was found in 1984, three years after his murder, while eight others have been recovered since the commission was set up in 1999.

Fr McVeigh said the commission told him they needed "very definite information about a person" before they could ask next of kin and a coroner for the plot to be opened.

It is alleged the secret was discovered in 1980 when the plot was opened for the official burial of a family member who had died in England.

Fr McVeigh claims he was told a makeshift coffin was found buried shallow in the plot, resting on other coffins, and was moved to make room for the legitimate burial.

The priest said: "That was the complication with the commission. They did not want to have to disturb other sets of remains."

It is understood the commission had been searching other areas in Monaghan for Mr McVeigh's remains using "reliable, senior sources".

Fr McVeigh said the information he passed on was based on a rumour but last year called publicly on Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to ask authorities on both sides of the border to work together to investigate the graveyard.

The exhumation in Urbleshanny was ordered by Martin Watters, the coroner in north Monaghan.

State pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy, a forensic anthropologist, commission staff and scientists were involved in the difficult exhumation over several hours. A garda spokesman cautioned that subsequent forensic examination of the remains will take some time.

Mr McVeigh was from Donaghmore in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He was abducted and murdered by the IRA in Dublin in October 1975.

Despite extensive searches in Co Monaghan, his remains have yet to be found. His mother had campaigned tirelessly on her son's case before her death in 2007.

In 1999 the IRA admitted it had killed and secretly buried nine of the 16 Disappeared, while the republican Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) has been linked to one of the deaths.

A Government spokeswoman said Justice Minister Alan Shatter had given the go-ahead for the exhumation as the Commission searches for Mr McVeigh's body.

"As part of this investigation an exhumation of a family plot, not the McVeigh family plot, was authorised by the Minister," she said.

"In the course of the exhumation, remains, which might not be those of a member of the family whose plot it was, were discovered.

"The remains will now be taken for analysis to determine if they are those of Columba McVeigh.

"The McVeigh family were aware of the exhumation."

© Press Association

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