Anger as IRA says it knows no more of the Disappeared

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AMID MOUNTING criticism of its handling of the issue of "the disappeared" and the so far fruitless searches for eight bodies, the IRA yesterday declared that it had no more information to give about the locations of the dead.

Its statement heightened the growing speculation that some of the bodies of those missing since the Seventies and early Eighties might never be recovered. While one was handed over last week, four days of searches at six separate sites in the Irish Republic have produced no further result.

The IRA said it had proved impossible to establish the exact location of victims in some instances, though it added that in one case where it had definite information this had been passed on accurately.

The statement continued: "The IRA leadership approached this issue in good faith but their investigation was hampered by the length of time, changes of leadership and the deaths of members and former members of the IRA."

The announcement followed calls from the family of at least one of the bereaved for more precise information on locations. Its starkness means that some will now fear that the bodies of their relatives might never be recovered.

This has come as an added trauma for families whose hopes had been raised by the beginning of search operations. It had originally been assumed that all of those missing would be found within a few days.

No one has yet suggested calling off the searches, but if nothing is found over the next few weeks this possibility may have to be faced.

The affair is fast turning into a political disaster for the republican movement, which has received biting criticism both for the original killings and for its recent handling of the issue. Most immediately it has developed into a potentially damaging issue for Sinn Fein, which is campaigning in European elections both north and south of the border. While the party had hoped to significantly increase its vote, this controversy could cost it dearly in terms of votes.

Yesterday there were allegations that Sinn Fein had conned both the British and Irish governments, which last week both pushed through legislation saying any new evidence recovered from the unmarked graves would not be used in prosecutions.

The Tyrone priest Monsignor Denis Faul suggested that the IRA had misled Sinn Fein in the information that it had passed on. He added: "I am prepared to give two more days or three more days for the Gardai to see whether they can produce something. But I think the IRA are not prepared to risk their necks and did not give them accurate information - maybe they didn't even give the right locations; I think that is what is going to come out."