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Tánaiste says report that Aidan McAnespie's body part was 'disposed of' must be 'extremely difficult' for the family

The 24-year-old was shot shortly after crossing an army checkpoint.

Aidan McAnespie
Aidan McAnespie
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY said the report that a body part removed from Aidan McAnespie after he was shot by a British soldier has been disposed of must be “extremely difficult” information for the family to hear.

The 24-year-old was shot shortly after crossing an army checkpoint on his way to GAA club Aughaloo GAC on 21 February 1988. The soldier involved, then-18-year-old David Holden, claimed the killing was accidental. He said that his wet hands slipped on the trigger.

His killing sparked widespread anger and led to the Irish government appointing then Deputy Garda Commissioner Eugene Crowley to carry out an inquiry.

However, the full content of the report was not made public. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has previously said that even 30 years after the shooting, it is too sensitive to release.

The Irish News reported last week, that a letter to the family’s solicitor, State Pathologist for Northern Ireland Dr James Lyness confirmed that a section of the Tyrone man’s rib cage had been removed and later “disposed of”.

Coveney was asked about the matter in the Dáil today.

‘Painful information’

“I am aware of the media coverage of the report to which the deputy refers. This is undoubtedly another extremely difficult time for the family, who have been campaigning for the return of Mr McAnespie’s remains in full. I am sure all deputies can agree with me that this painful information must be made all the more distressing by the long time the family have had to wait for it,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said he hoped the Tánaiste would join him in “expressing alarm and exasperation” at the revelations contained in the recent correspondence, which states that this disposal was carried out in the years following the post-mortem examination.

When former State Pathologist Professor John Harbison carried out a second autopsy on the exhumed remains in this jurisdiction he discovered that this critical section of the ribcage had been removed.

Ó Caoláin said there have been many calls to have Aidan’s full remains restored to his family, but to no avail.

“Will the Minister undertake to raise this matter with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley,” Ó Caoláin asked Coveney.

He also asked the Tánaiste to ensure Minister Flanagan make contact with all of those who gave evidence to the then deputy commissioner Eugene Crowley in order that they would waive their understanding of confidentiality and allow the report to be issued in full.

Coveney said he met the McAnespie family in March this year to hear their views and concerns.

Legal advice

A summary of the report’s conclusions and a copy of a post-mortem report carried out by Professor Harbison has been provided to the McAnespie family and the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has provided further copies of these documents to the family’s representatives, he said. The Tánaiste said Minister Flanagan is currently examining what options might be available to further assist the family.

“I have told the family that the government will stay in contact with them as this progresses,” said Coveney.

Coveney said Minister Flanagan has agreed to look at the issue, but he told the Dáil that it is not as straightforward as Ó Caoláin has outlined, stating that it is not simply the case of asking people for their permission to waive confidentiality.

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He said the justice minister is taking legal advice on the matter.

“When an investigation happens on the basis of guarantees around confidentiality, it has a standing that makes dealing with this issue difficult. I have explained that to the McAnespie family and I think they understand where we are coming from. We want to try to be helpful but we do not want to try to build pressure on people who gave evidence on the basis of confidentiality, even all these years later. I will wait to hear what the Minister, deputy Flanagan, thinks may or may not be possible and we have undertaken to communicate with the family on this,” said Coveney.

He added that it is important to note that he cannot compel the state pathologist in Northern Ireland to provide information one way or the other, but he said he will raise concerns with the Secretary of State.

“I will ensure that the issue is raised with the appropriate authorities in Northern Ireland, he said.

He added that dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is “complex and a challenging task for everyone”.

The government remains fully committed to the framework of measures in the Stormont House Agreement which seeks to meet the needs of the many victims and survivors, said Coveney.

The Cork TD welcomed the launch earlier this month of the UK’s public consultation on its draft legislation to implement the legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement.

“Victims and survivors have had to wait for far too long already for a suitable and effective system in Northern Ireland for dealing with legacy issues from the Troubles,” he added.

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