A brother of a man abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA has said he hopes the discovery of a body on a remote bog in the Irish Republic will end the family's feelings of helplessness. Remains believed to be those of newly-wed Brendan Megraw, from Twinbrook, west Belfast - one of the Disappeared - were discovered in a drainage ditch in the middle of Oristown bog, Co Meath.
The find was made by contractors as they prepared the site for forensic excavations following new information on the suspected location of the body. Kieran, one of Brendan's brothers, said he was shocked to get a phone call from investigators at about 10am today.
"For our own family it was not until 1999 that we knew Brendan was dead and buried in Oristown. There will always be questions, but if this is Brendan and we get him home, that is the target," he said. "The target was to get Brendan's body back. If he was killed at the spot in Oristown he was all alone, and you think he would have thought he would never be back home - that's the thought most people would not want to happen to them, being alone.
The scene at Oristown bog where a body has been found
"There was always a massive frustration when you felt that he was there and you couldn't find him and couldn't bring him home - that's now gone, we hope."
Brendan Megraw was looking forward to the birth of his first child and was due to start a new job on a ship when he went missing in April 1978 aged 23. The IRA claimed the father-to-be confessed to being a British provocateur and Military Reaction Force undercover agent. His disappearance was confirmed 15 years ago to investigators from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains (ICLVR) - set up by the British and Irish Governments to liaise with former paramilitaries to find the Disappeared.
It confirmed a body was recovered at Oristown. The ICLVR was established in 1999 after the Good Friday peace agreement and is acknowledged as a world leader in the search and recovery of human remains, with most sites being bogland. Ireland's state pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy examined the scene at Oristown along with the forensic investigators from the commission before the remains were removed.
It is understood full excavations had not begun and only clearance and preparation works were taking place when the discovery was made. A post mortem and formal identification, possibly through DNA, will be carried out. When contacted by the investigators this morning family members were asked what Mr Megraw might have been wearing at the time he disappeared, with one brother, Sean, suggesting it could have been a duffel coat and jeans.
Kieran Megraw said thoughts should also be with other families of the Disappeared whose quests continue to find loved ones abducted by the IRA. "We are over the moon but surprised that it has come so quick after all this time," he said. "I didn't really expect to get the call. And it is looking like it really is Brendan, obviously there will be DNA tests and so on. It is quite a shock for the family. Sometimes you maybe ask yourself twice, has it really come about, but there's joy and relief that it looks like it is his body."
forensic archaeologists examine the bog near Kells, Co Meath
Mr Megraw was one of 17 people abducted, killed and clandestinely buried by republicans - the Disappeared. That list includes Gareth O'Connor who was murdered in 2003 by dissidents. His body was recovered on June 11 2005 at Victoria Quay, Newry Canal, Co Louth although the search and discovery did not fall within the Commission's remit.
In total the remains of 10 of the Disappeared have been recovered. Forensic archaeologists surveyed Oristown bog one month ago and spent the last few weeks analysing radar surveys, searching for anomalies in the ground. Separate searches have also taken place on bogland a few miles away, near Wilkinstown, for the remains of Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright, both of whom were taken by the IRA in October 1972.
It is also suspected Joseph Lynskey, a former Cistercian monk taken from the Beechmount area of west Belfast in the summer of 1972, was also buried somewhere in the region. Investigators believe one person living locally may hold vital clues to several families' decades-long quest to find the bodies of loved ones. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams welcomed the latest discovery.
"I hope the identity of the remains can be quickly verified and that this discovery will bring some closure to the family and loved ones of Brendan Megraw," he said. Mr Adams appealed for anyone with information on the Disappeared to contact the commission and insisted they would not face prosecution.
Alex Attwood, SDLP MLA for West Belfast, extended his sympathies to the families of the Disappeared following the discovery in Oristown. "Our thoughts and prayers are today with the families of the Disappeared. It is hoped that today's discovery will help ease the pain of one family, after years when they were denied the return of a loved one," he said.