‘Twenty years on we still feel the pain’

Justice Minister Alan Shatter was visibly moved yesterday when he launched Missing Persons Day at Farmleigh House in Dublin.

‘Twenty years on we still feel the pain’

His voice broke when he told relatives of some of the missing that he hoped he would be forgiven for only mentioning Dublin schoolboy Philip Cairns.

“Philip’s disappearance, on his way back to Coláiste Eanna school in Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, after lunch at home on Oct 12, 1986, was my first personal experience as a young TD of someone inexplicably disappearing,” he said, clearly upset.

“Since that time, whenever I learn of someone missing, I always think of Philip, the distress of his family following that terrible day and the dreadful feeling of helplessness when time continued to pass and there is no information about him forthcoming.

“I know this is a feeling shared by those of you here with us this morning, who have a missing family member.”

Mr Shatter was later joined by Philip’s mother, Alice, to plant an oak tree in the grounds of Farmleigh.

Alice, who keeps a picture of her son on her mobile phone, said Philip would have celebrated his 40th birthday last September. She said Philip’s case had been in the limelight a lot over the years but other people like her were not afforded the same opportunity. She was glad National Missing Persons Day would become an annual event when every missing person could be remembered.

Alice said she still remained hopeful about Philip: “We have to have hope; we can never give up hope. Nothing bad has been found for Philip... People ask how we as a family can still keep hoping 27 years later, but we do. Thank God, we have been able to survive and keep going. But it is hard.”

Also at the launch was Gerry Keenan, brother of missing Waterford woman, Imelda Keenan, who was 22 when she disappeared on Jan 3, 1994 close to her William Street flat.

“It is almost 20 years since Imelda went missing and those years have been so hard on the family. The first year was very bad, but 20 years on we are still feeling the pain,” he said.

Gerry believes that “foul play” was involved in his sister’s disappearance. “No one should walk outside their front door, turn the key and disappear into the air. That doesn’t happen.”

He is glad there is a day for families like his and hopes some day they would all have closure.

Michael Deely, whose son, Trevor, went missing in Dublin on Dec 8, 2008, said the family was trying to keep focused and as positive as possible as the anniversary of his disappearance approaches.

Michael said the family still held out the hope that Trevor would be found alive and still worked hard at getting publicity.

“Accepting that he’s dead — you’re finished. There is no road after that.”

The call for a National Missing Persons Day was made by transition-year students at Davis College, Mallow, Co Cork, who were awarded the title of Young Social Innovators of the Year in 2012 for their project Forget Me Not.

The school’s principal, Denis Healy, said the project took over two years to complete: “It is incredible what 16 and 17 year olds can do when they put their mind to it. It’s a monumental occasion.”

One of the 23 students involved in the project, sixth- year student Josie McGrath, 17, said they wanted to make sure the families of missing people had a special day to remember their loved ones: “Now every year they will feel a sense of hope and know that they are not alone.”

Earlier, gardaí launched the Child Rescue Ireland Alert phone app. Commissioner Martin Callinan, said the app would provide vital information to track down a missing child: “Over 50% of the public in Ireland own a smartphone and, as a result, the potential for quickly reaching vast numbers of the population with critical information is enormous.”

Parents who have the app installed can have a picture and vital statistics of their own child saved on their phone, ready to give officers, if the need arose.

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