Dáil Éireann - Volume 500 - 17 February, 1999

Adjournment Debate. - Missing Persons.

Mr. Enright: Since seeking to raise this issue on the Adjournment, I am pleased to learn the alleged abduction in Kildare has proved groundless and that the case has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Garda Síochána. Over recent years, I have spoken to many people concerned about the number of women who have gone missing and whose bodies have never been found. There are also a number of other women who have been murdered and whose bodies have been found but for whose murders no person has ever been charged.

I welcome the establishment of Operation Trace, based in Naas under the supervision of an assistant commissioner, which comprises six people working directly under a superintendent. The Garda personnel involved are re-examining the files of six of the missing people whose bodies have never been found. The families of some of the missing persons have a faint hope and hold dear to that hope that their missing family members are still alive. I am certain everyone in the House shares with me the grief and sadness for all the families involved and I offer them my sympathy in their loss.

The six people whose cases are being examined by Operation Trace are Annie McCarrick, who went missing in 1993 aged 26, and was last seen in County Wicklow; Jo Jo Dullard, who went [1177] missing in 1995, aged 20; Fiona Pender, from my own constituency, who went missing in 1996 aged 25; Ciara Breen, from Dundalk, who went missing in 1997, aged 17; Fiona Sinnott, from Wexford, who went missing in 1998, aged 19; and Deirdre Jacob, aged 19 from Kildare, who went missing in 1998. These were all young women from counties in close proximity to one another – Kildare, Wicklow, Offaly, Wexford and Louth.

Four other people are missing also. Antoinette Smith, went missing in 1987, aged 27 years; and Patricia Doherty, went missing in 1991, aged 30. The bodies of both these women were found in Kilakee. Eva Brennan, went missing in 1993, aged 40; her body was not found. The body of Marie Kilmartin, aged 36, was found on the Laoighis-Offaly border.

I strongly believe there is a connection between these ten cases. I welcome the fact that RTE and the local media continue to raise this important and sensitive matter. Did ten different people commit murder and get away with their crimes? The bodies of most of these women have not been found. This is a serious matter that is causing concern to many people.

I regret there is no sense of urgency in solving these disappearances. Many people have spoken to me about this matter. They do not believe there is a sense of urgency about it. Women are concerned for their safety. They used to go for walks on country roads, especially in the evening, but they are nervous about doing that now. Parents are also worried about the safety of their daughters, particularly when they go to a function at night. That is not good enough. We must ensure that people can traverse the country in safety.

It is essential that a determined effort is made by the Government to address this matter. We need an initiative like Operation Shannon which was very successful in putting a stop to attacks on people in their homes. Such an attack took place recently west of the Shannon and the Garda are making serious inquiries into that. Similar efforts are taken each year when the Garda Síochána launch a major initiative to clamp down on drunken driving.

The Minister should set up a special squad, under the direct supervision of the Garda Commissioner, which will investigate different areas. I believe these disappearances are connected. Murders were being systematically committed in Belgium but by the time the authorities became aware of a pattern, it was too late for many victims.

I hope we are successful in solving these crimes sooner rather than later. It is in the best interests of the public that the people who committed them are put behind bars for a very long time. It is of particular importance to women who need to be protected.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I assure Deputy Enright that [1178] the unsolved cases of disappeared young women is a matter of the gravest concern and there is no question but that the Garda Síochána treat it with the utmost seriousness. I fully recognise the need to locate these women, and all of these cases are being dealt with by the Garda Síochána.

As the Deputy is aware, I have taken a particular interest in the issue of missing persons, and I am doing all I can to ensure that the Garda Síochána have effective arrangements and the necessary resources to trace those who are reported missing.

The detailed deployment of Garda resources is a matter for the Commissioner. Present arrangements are that the Garda divisional officer or district officer takes direct responsibility for searches or investigations into cases of persons who are reported missing. Special investigation teams are appointed as necessary.

I have no reason to believe a lack of resources is inhibiting Garda investigations, but if it transpires that there is a need for additional resources to assist in these complex, painstaking and detailed investigations, I will consider any request made by the Garda Commissioner.

With regard to the very disturbing incident to which the Deputy has referred, I am sure the House will appreciate that I do not wish to say anything at this point which would in any way prejudice what is an ongoing Garda investigation.

Deputy Enright referred to Operation Trace which was established by the Garda Commissioner to review the original investigations of cases of missing women. The group is headed by an Assistant Garda Commissioner, and its programme is aimed at developing profiles of men who have shown serious sexual violence against women. This trawl will include prison records to check if any possible suspects were on temporary release on the dates on which the missing women disappeared. I understand no evidence has as yet emerged to support the possibility of a serial killer being involved.

While overall statistics are no consolation to those involved, or their families, it is worth noting that by international standards the Irish position with regard to missing persons compares favourably. I am informed by the Garda authorities that in 1998 a total of 1,739 persons were reported to the Garda as missing, of which 12 remained untraced at the end of the year.

While public concern over the issue of missing persons has tended to concentrate on the disappearance of young women, it is important to stress that women are not over-represented in the statistics. When we examine the figures compiled on missing persons since 1990, we find that men account for approximately 70 per cent of those who remain untraced.

The Garda authorities continuously review the effectiveness of the working methods and procedures employed in missing persons cases and following a review of police work practices in other countries, several improvements were made [1179] last year. I welcome that as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In the area of information technology, a database is being developed within PULSE, the Garda information system. This will allow for cross-referencing, linkages and analysis in dealing with missing persons cases and unidentified bodies countywide. The Garda Information Technology Section is also developing a website on the Internet.

More detailed and elaborate procedures were introduced earlier in the year involving the completion of more detailed forms when missing persons are first reported, and more stringent guidelines have also been introduced in dealing with missing persons cases. The Garda also nominate liaison officers to keep the relatives of missing persons informed of progress, and a juvenile liaison officer is also involved where the missing person is under the age of 18 years.

I welcome the recent changes in the procedures for dealing with missing persons cases which the Commissioner has introduced and on the renewed emphasis he has placed on the role of Garda liaison officers in these cases. New guidelines have also been introduced by the Garda to assist and involve the reportee or family of the missing person. The question of taking any additional operational measures to investigate such cases is being kept under review by the Garda Commissioner. I assure Deputy Enright and other Deputies that if the Garda Commissioner requires additional resources to assistance him in tracing missing persons, he will have my full co-operation.