The Disappeared: Northern Ireland searches for closure

In remote bogland in Ireland, investigators search the ground with radar and a cadaver dog for a victim of the IRA murdered and secretly buried in 1972.

Wilkinstown: In remote bogland in Ireland, investigators search the ground with radar and a cadaver dog for a victim of the IRA murdered and secretly buried in 1972.

They mark out grid areas and put down probes at half-metre intervals for the dog to sniff underground on a grim mission to find the last of the "Disappeared".

"We`re not just looking for the needle in the haystack. We`re actually looking for the haystack before we start," lead investigator Geoff Knupfer told a news agency on site near Wilkinstown this month.

Many of the people taking part in the search are former police officers like Knupfer, a retired detective who worked in the 1980s on the high-profile Moors Murders child killings in England.

Their painstaking work is for a unique agency set up as part of the Northern Ireland peace process that acts on anonymous tip-offs from informants.

"We`re trying to bring closure to families who are in a terrible mess because their loved ones just literally disappeared off the face of the earth," Knupfer said, as he zipped up his jacket from the bitter cold.

Their latest search is for the body of Joe Lynskey, one of the 16 people abducted by paramilitaries during a three-decades long conflict known here simply as "The Troubles".

Six of the victims have still not been found.

Shortly after a historic peace agreement in 1998, the Independent Commission for the Investigation of Victims Remains (ICLVR) was established.

The search for Lynskey comes two months on from the Commission finding another victim, Brendan Megraw, in nearby bogland after 36 years.

"You don`t wake up with a sense of wondering where he is or what we have to do to try and find him anymore," said Brendan`s brother Kieran, speaking weeks after Megraw was finally laid to rest beside his parents.

"After he was found, we went down to the spot and we couldn`t help think about what he was possibly thinking at the time -- that he was never going to get back to his family -- so there`s that relief that he`s home at last," he told a news agency.

Lynskey and another two "Disappeared" victims are believed to be buried in the same area where Megraw was found in the Republic of Ireland around an hour and a half`s drive across the border from Belfast in Northern Ireland.The legislation that underpins the Commission`s work, enacted in both Britain and Ireland, is unprecedented.

Informants cannot be identified and no evidence discovered can be used in court.

"Nobody has been prosecuted, arrested, or in any way convicted as a result of information passed to the Commission," Knupfer said.

On the bogland search, Mick Swindells of Search Dogs UK plotted out an area, with his body-detection dog, Ronnie, waiting patiently.

"These kinds of searches are very difficult because of the age of the body," the retired police dog handler said.

The remote and swampy search area is accessible only by windy narrow roads and was even more inaccessible at the time of the killings.

"It`s very sad, and sad that it has taken so long," said Margaret Cummins, a local woman whose family once owned the land where the search is taking place.

"Why is it only happening now?" she said.The peace process has encouraged people to come forward with information that can assist in solving the remaining mysteries from a conflict in which 3,000 people died whose wounds are still raw.

Of the 16 victims under the Commission`s remit, the IRA claimed responsibility for killing 13.

One was killed by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and no attribution has been given to two other victims.

Maria Lynskey, Joe`s niece, said her family only found out four years ago that he was one of the Disappeared as they were given false information that he had emigrated to the United States.

"I just want him home. I just want him back with his mother. All mothers need their children and she needs hers," Lynskey told a news agency.

A former Cistercian monk and IRA volunteer, he was killed by his fellow militants after a summary trial for breaking the group`s rules.

Only one of the Disappeared was murdered outside the island of Ireland -- Seamus Ruddy, 32, who was executed by the Irish National Liberation Army in Paris in 1985 while working as an English teacher.

There have been two unsuccessful searches for Seamus in a forest near Rouen, the last in 2008.

"All we want to do is find him and bring him home to Ireland and to give him a Christian burial," Seamus`s sister Anne Morgan told a news agency.

"We need to bury our brother."