Northern Ireland: IRA to be granted graves immunity

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH and Irish governments began passing legislation yesterday to allow the IRA to pinpoint the graves of nine missing terrorist victims without risk of prosecution.

The law-making process was getting under way in London and Dublin after Tuesday's agreement between the two governments to establish a cross-border commission, aimed at finding the bodies of those secretly murdered and buried in the Seventies.

However, relatives of Northern Ireland's "disappeared" remain guarded on the prospect of the remains being returned shortly, saying their hopes had been raised and dashed too often before.

"We'll feel a lot better when we've a coffin to carry," said Seamus McKendry, whose widowed mother-in-law, Jean McConville, was abducted in west Belfast in 1972 and murdered, leaving her 10 children orphaned. A month ago the IRA announced that it had established the whereabouts of nine secret graves after an 18-month investigation. However, it has since refused to give further information about the locations until the two governments pass legislation granting immunity from prosecution.

Yesterday the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill was given its first reading in the Commons as the Irish Justice Minister published legislation mirroring it. John O'Donoghue said the Criminal Justice (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill would go before the Irish Parliament "shortly" and it was expected to pass go swiftly into law.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, said the Government was aiming to have its legislation in place as soon as possible. She said: "The suffering of the families of the disappeared strikes a deep chord. Their suffering has gone on too long and the Government acknowledges their need to know the locations of their loved ones' remains."