Past must be understood and accepted before people can move on from Troubles, says Catholic Primate

Annual Mass for families of the Disappeared hears victims’ families ‘cannot find peace or trust until the truth emerges’ and their loss is ‘properly acknowledged’

The truth of what happened in Northern Ireland’s past, “however unpalatable”, must be unearthed if there is to be reconciliation, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has said.

Victims’ families “cannot find peace or trust until the truth emerges” and their loss “is properly acknowledged”, he told an annual Mass for families of the Disappeared in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.

During the proceedings Archbishop Martin commended the recently published interim Operation Kenova report, which investigated the activities of Freddie Scappaticci, a senior Belfast IRA member widely identified as a British army double agent code-named Stakeknife.

The report, he said, highlighted “the failure to properly acknowledge the hurt inflicted on families during the Troubles and the lack of disclosure about murder which wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else”.


The report found that more lives were lost than saved as a consequence of the activities of Stakeknife, and that a specialist British army unit as well as the RUC special branch withheld information which resulted in “very serious criminal offences, including murder”.

Jon Boutcher, now PSNI Chief Constable, led the team that prepared the report. He concluded that the IRA’s treatment of informers was among the “most shameful and evil I have ever encountered”.

The remains of 13 of the 17 Disappeared, people believed to have been murdered and secretly buried by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles, have so far been uncovered. The remains of Joe Lynskey, Seamus Maguire, Robert Nairac and Columba McVeigh have not been found to date.

Archbishop Martin said the Operation Kenova report “makes it clear that families like yours and others who are coping with the legacy of our conflict simply cannot find peace or trust until the truth emerges, and your loss is properly acknowledged”.

The fact that Mr Boutcher “so clearly acknowledges that information about legacy cases has too often been withheld and suppressed, draws attention to your long and painful pursuit of information about precisely where your loved ones were buried – a quest which sadly remains open for some of your families”, he said.

He was thankful that “many of you have been able to recover the bodies of your loved ones and give them a Christian burial, but even then it took far too long for that to happen, and indeed some of you still endure the agonising suffering of not having answers”.

Archbishop Martin said there was “such a pressing need to continue to reach out across our community divides and to hear the heartfelt stories – often cruel stories – of murder, maiming, vilifying, and unfair and unjust allegations, innuendo and life-changing punishments”.

“If reconciliation is to happen, then all families of our victims – including your own – need to continue to be recognised, loved ones appropriately memorialised, and the truth – however, unpalatable – of what happened needs to continue to be unearthed,” he added.

“The past needs to be owned, understood and appropriately accepted before we can properly move on in the hope of a brighter shared future of peace, mutual understanding and prosperity for all.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times