There was high drama here last week when the son of a prison officer who was murdered by the IRA in 1983 walked into a Sinn Fein press conference in Dublin and confronted Gerry Adams. Clearly taken by surprise, Adams was like a rabbit caught in the headlights as Austin Stack angrily accused him of withholding information that could bring his father Brian's killers to justice. (The dramatic moment was captured on camera and you can easily find the video online.)
Brian Stack was chief prison officer at Portlaoise Prison in the south in the early 1980s where republican gunmen, bombers and thugs of various kinds who had been convicted in the south were locked up. He was not a popular man with republicans, largely because he was a no-nonsense prison officer who resisted the IRA's attempts to control the prison on the inside with their own command structure and rules. He was also in charge of security at the prison and may have been frustrating IRA breakout plans.
Stack, a father of three, was a devoted family man with a keen interest in sport and, in particular, amateur boxing, involving his young sons in the local boxing club. It was when he was leaving the National Boxing Stadium in Dublin after a contest there in 1983 that the IRA struck.
He was shot from behind in the back of the head as he was walking down a nearby street. The attack left him paralyzed and brain damaged and he died 18 months later at the age of 48.
For a good number of years now Stack’s sons, who were young teenagers at the time of the murder, have been attempting to get justice for their father. The garda attempt to solve the murder appeared to be making little progress.
With the peace process and the ending of the IRA "war" in the North, there may have been a tendency not to aggressively pursue the case. It was one of a number of unsolved IRA murders that were swallowed up in the compromise that was the settlement in the North, part of "the price of peace."
In desperation, the Stack sons turned to Sinn Fein a few years ago in an attempt to at least get confirmation that it was the IRA who had murdered their father, despite the fact that the IRA and Sinn Fein had always denied it. This resulted in the extraordinary trip Adams took them on in 2013 in the back of a van with blacked out windows to meet a senior IRA commander. The trip began in Dundalk and may have crossed the border (you can read about this online.)
The man they met gave them a statement which acknowledged that the IRA had killed their father. The statement also said, “This action was not authorized by the IRA leadership and for this reason the IRA denied any involvement. Some years later, when the Army Council discovered that its volunteers had shot prison officer Brian Stack, the volunteer responsible for the instruction was disciplined.”
What followed in the three years since 2013 -- including last week -- became increasingly convoluted as the brothers sought more information about what had happened and who was responsible. Politicians put pressure on Sinn Fein, with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin among those speaking out in the run up to the election earlier this year. Martin called on Adams to give the gardai any information he had on the case.
The potential electoral damage this could have done to Sinn Fein seems to have prompted Adams to email the garda commissioner last February with the names of four people, two of whom were Sinn Fein members of the Dail, who might have information about the Stack case. But Adams, who denies he knows anything about the murder, says that these names were not based on anything he knew. He says that they were simply names that had been given to him by Austin Stack when they met in 2013.
This may seem ridiculous: if anyone knows who was involved in the murder it would be Garry Adams rather than the Stack brothers. Austin Stack became a senior prison officer like his father and would have had access to garda and other sources as a result. But he insists he did not give any names to Adams, who he says is lying, which is why he confronted him last week.
In a statement to the Dail last week Adams repeated that he did not know anything about the murder (or "killing" or "shooting" as he calls it) and that the names had come from Austin Stack. He claimed that the other political parties were cynically using the Stack brothers to damage Sinn Fein.
Further fuel was added to the fire last week when a Fine Gael deputy used Dail privilege to name two Sinn Fein deputies, Dessie Ellis and Martin Ferris (both former IRA men), as people who might have "information" relevant to the Stack murder. This caused uproar in the Dail from Sinn Fein.
The Stack story continued to make headlines here throughout last week with angry calls that Adams reveal the name of the IRA commander he brought the Stack brothers to meet in 2013 and the van driver who drove them there.
By last weekend the position of Adams was looking increasingly uncertain. He insisted that he had been humanely trying to help the Stack brothers to reach "closure" and that he had taken them to the 2013 meeting on a confidential basis, confidentiality that had been broken by the Stacks.
He said he could not reveal any IRA names because to do so would end the hopes of many other people who were looking for information on what had happened to relatives they had lost in the "conflict" -- the IRA would simply stop engaging. He said that he had acted in this case because the governments had failed to bring forward a truth and reconciliation process to deal with cases like this and other cases involving not just the IRA but the other protagonists during The Troubles in the North.
What Adams has in mind, of course, is a truth and reconciliation process that would offer immunity to those involved, one which would allow everyone to tell the truth about the past without fear of any consequences. This is not something that many people here would be happy with given the appalling crimes perpetrated by the IRA over the years, not just in the North but in the south as well. It would also give a degree of retrospective validation to the IRA, even though they had no authority to act on behalf of the Irish people as they claimed they were doing.
The call by Adams for a South African style truth and reconciliation process to deal with cases like the Stack murder is neither convincing or appropriate. This is not South Africa and the IRA was not involved in a justifiable war of liberation.
To justify what the IRA did in the North and mainland Britain over the 30 year campaign is hard enough, even for hardline republicans. But in the south in cases like the murder of Brian Stack -- and the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe which the IRA also denied for years -- there can be no justification whatsoever for what was done.
These were crimes. And they were not just ordinary crimes. They were attacks on the country since both Stack and McCabe were officers of the state. But then, as we all know, the IRA never accepted the legitimacy of the Republic in the south anyway.
Adams and the IRA can't have it both ways on the Stack case. The IRA statement given to the Stack brothers in 2013 admitting responsibility said that the murder was not "authorized," and that is why it had been denied for 30 years.
But even within the twisted logic of the IRA, if it was not authorized that must mean it was a crime. And if it was a straightforward crime, that means Adams -- and indeed the IRA -- should feel free to disown those responsible and identify them.
Instead of doing that last week, however, Adams blustered away about the "failure" of the two governments to provide a truth and reconciliation forum. It's not relevant in this and many other cases and he knows it.
The truth is much more pathetic and sordid. The truth is that Adams won't reveal any names because to do so could put his life in danger. And he would not do so anyway because he clearly believes that all IRA "activists" should get a free pass no matter what crimes they committed. He believes the peace settlement is both a get out of jail card and a never go to jail card for those who were never caught.
So the IRA members who were involved in the south in cash raids (as in the murder of McCabe), in robbery, intimidation, extortion, taking money from drug dealers, smuggling and all the rest of the crime in the south over the years should be allowed to get away with it, no matter how much violence was involved and how many people, including gardai and soldiers, died.
In the alternative world of Sinn Fein, which of course is superior to the real world of the democratic state we have here in the south, all this is okay. It's even okay for whoever murdered Stack to be "disciplined" by the IRA instead of being handed over to the gardai to be brought to justice in the normal way.
It's also okay for Adams, the Sinn Fein leader and a member of the Dail, to be driving around in a van with blacked out windows to meet an IRA commander -- in 2013!
Of course all this can be and will be dismissed (just wait for the feedback from the army of Sinn Fein bots onIine!) as a plot by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to discredit Sinn Fein. So are those parties exploiting this for their own political purposes, as Adams says?
Of course they are -- that's what politicians do. But this is far bigger than “scurrilous political point scoring” as Adams called it. This is primarily about the fact that the Stack brothers want the person who murdered their father brought to justice.
The much quoted need to preserve the peace settlement in the North cannot be used now to give a free pass to the IRA who were involved in crime in the south. In this case, as in many others, what was involved had nothing to do with the "struggle" in the North. It was a cold, calculated murder by the IRA on the streets of Dublin to eliminate a prison officer they saw as a nuisance.
The aftermath for the Stack family was devastating. Just read Austin Stack's account of how as a 14-year-old he used to shave his brain-damaged and paralyzed father when he came home from hospital.
The "not authorized" excuse has been used whenever the IRA is caught with its hands in another bucket of innocent blood. It has little credibility -- as is shown, for example, by the fact that when the "unauthorized" killers of McCabe were locked up, Sinn Fein campaigned for their early release under the Belfast Agreement.
In the Stack case, if no one is brought to trial we will have no chance of ever finding out how far up the IRA chain of command the decision to assassinate him went.
All of this could signal the end of Adams as Sinn Fein leader. It was certainly notable that last week there was not a peep of support for him from the usually voluble Mary Lou McDonald, vice president of Sinn Fein.
Adams’ problem now, apart from being past his sell-by date, is that he drags so much dubious baggage behind him, so much stuff that has destroyed his credibility. He was never in the IRA, of course. He knew nothing about the murder of Jean McConville. Or Robert McCartney. Or the Northern Bank mega robbery (which the IRA were still denying when Northern Bank notes were found at republican-linked addresses in the south!) and on and on and on.
Nor does he know much about all the horrific stuff that went on in the North and in the U.K. over the years. Or about all the IRA crime in the south, including killings and kidnappings. In fact, he doesn't seem to know much about anything.
And he certainly does not know who killed Brian Stack. Or the name of the IRA commander he introduced the Stack brothers to in 2013. Or even the name of the driver of the blacked out van. Definitely not.
Brian Stack's killer has been "disciplined" by the IRA, we are told, and we are supposed to think that's okay? One wonders what he got -- Three Hail Marys?