Fr Aquinas Duffy, a parish priest in Cabinteely, Dublin, who set up the missing.ie website in 2000 when his cousin went missing, was speaking as gardaí concluded the third day of a massive search operation in a 40-acre woodland in East Cork as part of the Tina Satchwell investigation.
Fr Duffy, who helped establish the National Missing Persons Day, said he can’t understand how those with information, which could bring closure to the families of missing people, can remain silent.
“It’s hard to understand how someone can remain silent when they know they have information that can put these families’ minds to rest,” he said.
“And it’s not just the person with information — it’s their partners, their friends — they too can chose to remain silent. It just prolongs the misery and agony of the families of missing people.”
Ms Satchwell, 45, was reported missing from her home in Youghal, Co Cork, on March 24 last. Her husband, Richard, said he last saw her four days earlier.
Following the receipt of new information in January after the broadcast of an RTÉ Primetime special on the case, the investigation team sealed off Mitchel’s Wood in Castlemartyr, about 20km from the Satchwell home, on Monday.
It is understood that a credible witness has placed a woman matching Tina’s description at the woods, in the company of an individual, and in suspicious circumstances, around the time of her disappearance.
Supt Colm Noonan would only confirm that the search operation is being mounted as part of an “open and ongoing investigation” into Ms Satchwell’s disappearance.
Gardaí have also declined to comment on if they are looking for a body.
Up to 60 personnel, including specialist garda search teams, Defence Forces site clearance experts, and highly trained search dogs which can detect buried human remains, have been scouring the site since Monday.
A forensic archaeologist is on standby, and specialist equipment, including ground-penetrating radar, is on site for the operation which could take up to three weeks.
A no-fly zone has been imposed over the woodland until March 20 to prevent drones from taking photographs during the search operation.
Fr Duffy said he hopes the search will lead to a breakthrough which will bring closure to members of Tina’s family.
He set up missing.ie after his cousin Aengus Shanahan, 20, better known as Gussie, went missing from Limerick on February 11 of that year.
Fr Duffy said he is convinced that people in Limerick have information in relation to his cousin’s case, and that the launch of Monday’s search in the Satchwell case proves how important information from the public can be — at any stage.
“Even with the passage of time, you can be amazed and someone can come forward. No matter how irrelevant it seems to someone, I would urge people to come forward,” he said.
“The recovery of remains is denied to so many people in Ireland. Once remains are recovered, at least they are no longer missing, and there is closure, a finality to it.”
Richard Satchwell has insisted he could never harm his wife and has never been in Mitchel’s Wood.
In two TV interviews since Monday, he said: “I could never harm my wife, never. And everybody who knows us, knows that.”
He told TV3: “I’m hoping that Tina is out there and that she’s going to get in touch. My wife is [out] there somewhere, and I do believe she’s going to turn up and it will all be able to be put to bed.”
And he told Primetime his wife was not a trusting person and would not have gone to the woods in the company of any person, and would not have gone there alone.
“I know Tina, I can vouch for this, Tina would never go near woods on her own, or go in the company of anybody. She wouldn’t even go near a strange woods with me. I can 100% put that on the line,” he said.
He also said that if Tina was brought to the woods under false pretences, she would have put up a fight.
“If any harm has come to Tina in those woods someone would have seen somebody else severely damaged,” he said.