I’m sure most readers are aware of the controversy relating to the death of Brian Stack in September of 1984, a dreadful event which has unexpectedly grabbed the headlines once again. A senior guard at Port Laoise Prison, which housed dozens of individuals convicted of political offences during the 1970s, ’80s and 1990s (and arguably to the present day), Stack’s treatment of inmates gained him a poor reputation among visitors and staff. This was acknowledged by some delegates to the Irish Prison Officers conference two years previously who had condemned the draconian conditions at the gaol in the bluntest of terms. Likewise Amnesty International had catalogued numerous instances of physical and psychological abuse during the same period at Port Laoise, some of which it characterised as torture. Unfortunately this struggle between warders and inmates led to the chief prison officer’s fatal wounding by a lone gunman in Dublin on the 25th of March 1983. The gravely ill guard, a married father of three, died some eighteen months later in hospital, in large part due to his catastrophic injuries.
In the aftermath of the initial shooting no organisation claimed responsibility for the attack, though the chief suspects were thought to be members of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army or PIRA. This suspicion was widely held despite the insurgent force’s Standing Order No. 8 which ruled out any offensive actions against the institutions of the Irish state, a military regulation which was rarely broken throughout the thirty years of conflict in the north-east of Ireland. However in 2013, following meetings between the Stack family and the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, a statement was issued by PIRA acknowledging that several of its volunteers had carried out the fatal wounding, though without authorisation. An investigation ordered by the ruling Army Council had resulted in a senior person being disciplined. At the time of the statement the relatives of the late Brian Stack thanked Adams for his help with their queries. As most of you will know, that situation has altered considerably since then.
So, some things to note in relation to recent events in the ongoing controversy.
- Following a request by the family of the late Brian Stack it was Gerry Adams who eventually facilitated a meeting between the prison officer’s sons, Austin and Oliver, and an anonymous representative of PIRA’s former Army Council in 2013. The gathering took place in an unknown house, the Stack bothers and Adams travelling there in a van following an initial journey in a car driven by the SF leader.
- The meeting, in the words of the Stack family, took place over tea and biscuits, and was remarkably amicable given the emotionally-charged circumstances. During the conversations Austin Stack assured the representative of PIRA that he would abide by the organisation’s understandable desire for confidentiality, regardless of the circumstances. This matter had been agreed beforehand by the Stacks during their discussions with Gerry Adams. In return PIRA acknowledged that its volunteers had fatally injured his father in a premeditated gun-attack, and had done so without orders. Furthermore the representative of PIRA agreed that the admission, read out to the Stack brothers and transcribed by them, should be made public.
- Some time after the meeting, and despite the prior agreement reached with Gerry Adams and PIRA, Austin Stack went to the Gardaí and informed them of the gathering and the suspected identity of the Army Council representative he had met in the house.
- During the general election campaign of January-February 2016 the leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, repeatedly claimed that Gerry Adams was withholding information from the Garda Síochána in relation to the Brian Stack murder case of 1983-84.
- In response to the accusations a confidential email was sent by Adams to the Garda Commissioner, Noirín O’Sullivan, in February of 2016. This email contained the names of four individuals possibly associated with the incident three decades earlier and passed on to him by Austin Stack, the son of the murdered warder, when they met in 2013. Stack claimed that the names were given to him by members of the press and the Gardaí.
- Gerry Adams’ email was leaked by the Gardaí to one or more journalists employed by the Independent News and Media Group (IN&M), publishers of the Irish and Sunday Independent newspapers.
- At least one well-known journalist with IN&M approached several TDanna, including Independent deputies and members of Fine Gael, to brief them on the details of the leaked email. As part of those discussions the reporter urged the TDanna to use their Dáil privilege to make the stolen contents of the email available to the public.
- Shortly thereafter Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell intervened in a Dáil debate to name two Sinn Féin deputies, Martin Ferris and Dessie Ellis, in relation to the shooting following a personal statement by Adams about his own dealings with the matter. Despite the shocked reaction in the chamber to the outburst, including by some on his own benches, a smirking Farrell subsequently refused to expand upon his insinuation of complicity in the 1983-84 murder or to reveal his sources.
That is where we now stand, though I think it is fairly obvious to most informed readers that there is a lot more to the controversy than much of the press, and the IN&M stable of newspapers in particular, are willing to discuss or report on. As always in Ireland, the desire for peace or justice falls well behind the need for political advantage.