The cases have received only sporadic publicity over the years, but since last year's ceasefires a number of the affected families have become increasingly vocal. They are appealing for information about the location of bodies so they can be exhumed and given proper burials.
The issue has become a significant embarrassment to Sinn Fein and the IRA. Leading members of Sinn Fein, including the party's president Gerry Adams, have met families involved on several occasions. Mr Adams said yesterday: "I fully sympathise with them. These are tragic cases, a legacy of over two decades of conflict, confusion and uncertainty.
"Sinn Fein's firm view is that anyone of any group which has any information concerning the whereabouts of these individuals or their remains has a responsibility to inform the families."
But Mr Adams came in for criticism at the launch of Families of the Disappeared in Belfast. The group said: "We have a simple message for Gerry Adams and the IRA. Our families have suffered far too much, please bring this nightmare to an end, please bring this heartache to an end."
Seamus McKendry, whose mother-in-law Jean McConville was abducted from her west Belfast home in 1972, said: "We feel it is hypocritical for Sinn Fein to expect the status of a full democratic party while this issue remains unresolved."
The case of Mrs McConville is regarded as particularly poignant. A widow and mother of 10 children, she was taken from her Divis Flats home by a group of republican women and never seen again. Her family was broken up, with many of the children taken into care.
t Among the cases highlighted by the group are those of west Belfast men John McIlroy and Seamus Wright from Andersonstown, who disappeared in 1974; west Belfast man Brian McKinney, 22, and John McClory, 18, who were abducted in 1978; Gerard Evans and Charlie Armstrong, who disappeared from Crossmaglen in the late 1970s; and Columba McVeigh, a Co Tyrone teenager, who is said to have been killed as a suspected Army agent in 1977.Reuse content