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I am privileged to be joined at Farmleigh today for Ireland’s first national Missing Persons Day, by the Garda Commissioner and the many family members of persons who have gone missing. I know that many of you have called for such an occasion over the years and I am deeply honoured to be part of this inaugural ceremony of remembrance and support.
I welcome the very substantial support we have received for this inaugural event from national and local organisations and groups right across the country and also from families who have experienced a family member go missing. I want to extend my sincere gratitude to the representatives of An Garda Síochána, Missing In Ireland Support Services (MISS), the Searching for the Missing organisation, Missing Persons Association, The Department of Defence, Civil Defence, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) and a number of other voluntary support and rescue organisations who have given so generously of their time and expertise in the planning and development of the Day.
I also want to acknowledge and thank Deputy David Stanton, Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality who originally discussed the proposal with me and who was present when I met with representatives from Davis College. I also want to acknowledge Minister Sean Sherlock, and the other electoral representatives also present here today for their continued interest and support in the development of this Day of remembrance.
Many of you here will, undoubtedly, appreciate first hand the excellent assistance of An Garda Síochána. I know their expertise, professionalism and sensitivity are invaluable when a loved one goes missing. I want, in particular, to thank and pay tribute to the Garda Missing Persons Bureau and the highly trained Garda Family Liaison Officers, many of whom are present here today, for the continuing, invaluable advice and support provided to families when they are at their most vulnerable.
We all recognise that there have been major improvements in the range of state services and available voluntary supports in the area of missing persons and I am confident that Garda procedures for investigating and locating missing persons are carried out in line with best international practice.
I also fully appreciate that there is scope to build on this inaugural event and to address areas where work remains to be done. I am committed to continuing to engage with all concerned towards improving the co-ordination and effectiveness of the many state services and voluntary supports that currently co-exist. Our collective priority is to ensure the best outcomes for all involved.
I am sure that many of you here today will also be familiar with the various supports that are available and, in particular, the Missing in Ireland Support Service (MISS) which is funded by the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime under the aegis of my Department.
I want to commend MISS for their outstanding voluntary efforts. I know their support is crucial in alleviating the impact on families in such devastating circumstances.
This morning I also want to thank the many voluntary support groups and pay tribute to the consistent dedication and outstanding work by the highly skilled land and sea search and rescue organisations who work so diligently and closely with families and An Garda Síochána in our communities. I know from speaking with the families that their knowledge and expertise is vital in these tragic circumstances. I know that you give of your time, talents and energy so generously and I also want to pay tribute to your concern for the public good.
It is important at a national level that we do not forget those who are missing and that we do not ignore the devastating impact of such a traumatic event on immediate and extended family and friends. I also believe there is scope for developing our national initiative and I have proposed to my EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial colleagues that consideration be give to developing a 'European Missing Persons Day'. I am sure you will agree that such an event would recognise the significance of this important issue throughout Europe. It would also promote additional collaboration between Member States, in particular in the vital exchange of good practice and experience in this area and increase the possibility of reconnecting with individuals who, without explanation, chose to reside elsewhere in the European Union without forewarning to family and friends.
It is a terrible experience for any family to have a loved one who is missing. I know hope that a missing person will be found, or reappear alive and well, is never fully lost until definite facts emerge to extinguish that hope. The continuing uncertainty can, for those affected, be compounded by an inability to address fully the consequences of a person disappearing. I fully appreciate that the law cannot ease that sense of devastation and uncertainty. However, I believe there is scope to provide a mechanism for some closure for families in legal terms where a loved one is missing for a number of years. It is important that, in such circumstances, family matters in abeyance in relation to property and money issues can be carefully addressed and resolved. As some of you will be aware, the Government recently indicated its support, in principle, for a Bill proposed by my colleague Senator Colm Burke, arising from the Law Reform Commission's report on the Civil Law Aspects of Missing Persons and my Department is studying the complex issues to this gives rise. I am committed to working with Colm over the coming months to fine tune and develop the Bill to facilitate its passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas and enactment into law.
We are joined here today by family members of some of our missing persons. I know that the grief and sense of loss each of you have experienced is indistinguishable. I hope I will be forgiven for mentioning only Philip Cairns. Among us this morning is Philip’s sister, Sandra, and his mother, Alice, who I am privileged to have joining me later in a tree planting ceremony. Philip’s disappearance, on his way back to Colaiste Eanna school in Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, after lunch at home on 12th October 1986, was my first personal experience as a young TD of someone inexplicably disappearing. 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 was 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.
Before I conclude, I thank you once again for welcoming me here this morning, it is truly an honour and I want to assure you that I am committed to ensuring that Missing Persons Day is commemorated annually in Ireland. May I wish you, your families and friends a peaceful Christmas.
Finally, I want to take the opportunity, once again, to acknowledge the role of the Transition Year Students of Davis College, Mallow, Co. Cork who were awarded ‘Young Social Innovators of the Year 2012’ for their work in calling for a national Missing Persons Day. The students have joined us here today and I want to welcome Jacqui Walsh, student representative, to say a few words about their excellent 'Forget Me Not' awareness campaign.