As we reach the 40th anniversary of the abduction torture and murder of Captain Robert Nairac certain key questions remain.
They may never be answered, but as long as that is so we shall not have the full picture of what really happened on 14-15 May 1977. Their resolution has been rendered extremely difficult by the determined secrecy of the South Armagh PIRA.
Where is Nairac buried? Somewhere in or near Ravensdale Forest, within a ten-mile radius of the murder site.
It is rumoured that a former PIRA volunteer who had turned informer told his military handler, at a time when the PIRA were seeking the return of the body of one of their hunger strikers which the British authorities were reluctant to concede, that he had suggested to his PIRA superiors: “Why don’t we do a deal with them: our man’s body for Nairac’s?”
This was vetoed on grounds that, if the British accepted the plan,PIRA might be unable to deliver Nairac’s remains. “I don’t think that anyone now knows where he’s buried,” said one superior.
Nevertheless there is a further ground for hope that Nairac’s grave may be found. Boston College in Massachusetts is a Catholic university with a strong Irish connection.
The information may be in the Boston College Oral Histories of Ireland, all of which are recorded. Some have never been transcribed; others have been.
They include interviews about the Troubles with members of PIRA. These interviews were conducted under a promise of confidentiality and remain embargoed until after the deaths of the concerned PIRA operatives. In 2017, some of them are still alive. This archive is believed to contain information about Robert Nairac’s murder and the subsequent disposal of his body.
The British government has challenged the embargo in an attempt to oblige the College to release information related to PIRA activities. The US courts granted their request under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, but only up to a point. The British authorities managed to obtain access to some, but by no means all, the archived interviews.
In a number of cases the American courts have upheld the confidentiality terms. One day the last of the operatives will die and presumably the entire archive can be opened.
Boston College refuses to talk to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, even though the ICLVR observe a similar policy of confidentiality; there is no question of prosecution arising as a result of information being shared with them. Their mission is to locate the victims’ remains and to help families get closure.
Finally, a clairvoyant has claimed that Nairac is buried near, but outside, Ravensdale Forest, in a small detached wood; a fox – or pheasant – covert of conifers on a low knoll slightly elevated above the surrounding land. Although he has described the scene vividly, a number of coverts in the area answer to that description.
The simple fact is that PIRA can if they so wish help return our brave officer but that takes a resolve to reunite a soldier with his loved ones and give him a Christian burial
The IRA only had one prison camp and that was the graveyard.
At least a headstone would give some closure to the death of this brave young officer and might show some human decency from those who tortured and murdered him.
• Alan Barry, who like Captain Nairac served with the Grenadier Guards, was born in Dublin and is involved with Justice For Veterans,which seeks justice for Troubles veterans
• Tomorrow’s News Letter features the first of two special features on Captain Nairac