IF we had our wish, we’d be able to lease a premises from Cork City Council, as near to the water as possible, but we’re twenty years waiting for a call.
So says Chris O’Donovan, treasurer of Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery (CCMPSAR).
In May, CCMPSAR divers carried out a planned search of Crosshaven Harbour, and, using recently purchased sonar equipment, they were instrumental in locating a car submerged in the riverbed off of Hugh Coveney Pier. When the car was later recovered from the water, it was found to contain the remains of Barry Coughlan, a 23-year-old man missing since 2004.
For Barry’s heartbroken family, the discovery brought an end to 17 years of uncertainty, and the volunteers say they hope that, in time, Barry’s loved ones may know some peace and closure.
The sonar equipment used in that search was a Starfish 990 sidescan, and it cost €8,500, money the volunteers say was well-spent, as without it they would not have found Barry. Similarly, they purchased recently an aerial drone which cost €8,000.
That paid for itself three weeks ago when it helped them to locate and rescue an elderly woman missing from her home and lost in farmland.
Those purchases were made thanks to funds raised by the general public, and in fact everything CCMPSAR does is funded by the public, because without a permanent base, the registered charity is ineligible for Lottery funding or State grants.
CCMPSAR members say they are very grateful to be currently based in a shed in the Marina Commercial Park, a premises without running water, and Mr O’Donovan says without that temporary home, they would be out on the street, but they are unable to clean their equipment there, or store it there overnight.
He says Charlie Murphy’s garage in Blackrock has been a great supporter over the years, allowing them to wash their equipment and boats there free of charge, but he says having to store their equipment in their own homes puts a terrible strain on volunteers.
David Varian, CCMPSAR secretary, says the group is not looking for something for nothing, and would lease any potential premises from the council, and is not looking for a state-of-the-art facility either.
“What we’re looking for is a base, somewhere central enough, where we could clean our equipment and store it overnight. We could be out on the water looking for a missing person, from 6am to midnight, and with the set-up we have at the moment, we have to go home, turn on the heating and try to dry our wet-gear.
“Where we are now, we can’t even get a hot shower, or go to the toilet,” Mr Varian says.
Mr O’Donovan adds that when they are out on the water searching for a missing person, they often see the missing person’s family waiting on the quayside or riverbank, and he says it breaks their hearts that they can’t offer them a cup of tea, or a place to catch their breath in a bit of comfort.
“That would mean the world to us, to know that we might give a bit of dignity to people going through the worst days of their lives,” he says.
Now, with the help of anti-dereliction activists Jude Sherry and Frank O’Connor, CCMPSAR volunteers have identified three potential sites for a premises, all of which are derelict and are the property of Cork City Council, and they are calling for a meeting with the council.
Jude Sherry, who, with Frank O’Connor, has identified over 400 derelict buildings within 2km of Cork city centre, says such dereliction is a total waste of resources on so many levels and particularly damaging to the local economy.
“We believe that the Government and local authorities need to do more to ensure these buildings become homes, places to play, spaces to create and community hubs.”
Frank O’Connor adds: “We would love to see Cork City Council lead the way through making their vacant buildings available for such key organisations such as Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery, who do essential and inspiring work and should be fully supported.”
CCMPSAR’s volunteers say they have spent years trying in vain to draw the attention of politicians to their lack of a premises, but they are cautiously optimistic that perhaps at last they might be getting somewhere.
Thomas Gould, Sinn Fein TD for Cork North Central, says his attention was drawn to CCMPSAR by his colleague Councillor Mick Nugent, and he says he has made representations to Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath and to Cork City Council on behalf of CCMPSAR.
“It is time for a permanent building for Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery,” Deputy Gould says. “It’s about time they’re shown the respect they deserve.” Pádraig O’Sullivan, Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North Central, has also taken an interest, and he told The Echo this week that he has been in communication with Cork City Hall, as well as other State agencies, including the HSE, and intends to meet the volunteers with Minister Michael McGrath in the coming weeks.
For the volunteers of Cork City Missing Person Search and Recovery, the prospect of a proper premises is something they say would mean they could stop worrying, and get on with the important work they do, which is helping families to find their missing loved ones.
“We’re 20 years waiting for a call, and please God we might finally be getting somewhere,” says Chris O’Donovan.