Michael Jacob, whose daughter disappeared in 1998 from Newbridge, Co Kildare, attended an event to mark National Missing Persons Day and stood up at the end of the ceremony to challenge how cases are handled.
He was not a scheduled speaker but took to the podium to make his remarks.
“This event gives the families of the missing a good feeling for a couple of hours but it’s only today and then we wait for another year to come around,” said Mr Jacob.
“To the Minister for Justice, Mr Flanagan, you are looking at a very small group of people that have had a life-changing and a life-shattering happening visited on them by a family member going missing. There is only so much we can do. We need help.”
Mr Jacob also addressed the deputy commissioner of An Garda Síochána, John Twomey, who was also in attendance.
“The help that is required is sufficient resources made available to An Garda Síochána so you, Deputy Commissioner John Twomey, can put in place a full-time, dedicated team of determined investigators to investigate the missing. A team that will engage with families in a sympathetic, sensitive and inclusive manner,” said Mr Jacob.
He described the current method of investigation as “hit and miss”.
“There are many cases of people missing for 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, and, as we hear today, 70 years, with little or no progress being made, all because of a hit-and-miss practice of investigation, due in the main to a lack of resources,” said Mr Jacob.
“When times pass in a missing case, it is probably left to the determination of a single guard, that is if he or she is left in that area and this is not good enough.”
Turning to Mr Flanagan and Mr Twomey, Mr Jacob asked: “What do you think?”
This question was met with loud applause from the crowd which was mostly made up of the relatives of missing people.
He finished by asking for a new approach to investigations.
When he finished the crowd gave Mr Jacob a standing ovation.
“Would you, Mr Flanagan, and you, deputy John Twomey, please consider the suffering that the families of the missing endure, day after day, waiting and waiting.
“I plead with you both to implement a new approach in the investigation of the missing,” said Mr Jacob.
His comments were echoed by Patricia O’Reilly, whose mother, Alice Clifford, went missing from a Dublin hospital in 1979.
In her scheduled speech, she said families of missing people end up feeling “disheartened” and questioned yesterday’s ceremony in the absence of concrete assistance.
“What good are days like this to us families if there is no practical help at hand? We need more communication between government bodies. Families feel helpless and have no one to go to for advice,” said Ms O’Reilly.
“Thirty-eight years now she is gone. She has 26 grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren. We owe it to her to find her. I am disheartened by the system and the lack of communication. Fatal mistakes are still being made and it’s just not acceptable.”
Mr Twomey also spoke yesterday and acknowledged the endless grief that the relatives of missing people experience.
He described yesterday’s annual event as “one of the saddest days in the calendar of An Garda Síochána”.
“In Ireland, we all have different coping mechanisms to deal with death and that subsequent feeling of loss. We have our rituals of keening to get us through the agonies of grief. But when someone close to you goes missing, it’s a different kind of pain. A shapeless terrifying kind of pain that never ends.”
However, Mr Twomey stated that each case receives forensic care.
“Each missing person case receives thorough, forensic, and in-depth attention by An Garda Síochána. This level of detail can sometimes take time and on occasion more time than we would like but it is time that is necessary and needed,” he said.