On Tuesday in the Dáil and in my absence, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin used my efforts to assist the family of Brian Stack in an opportunistic and contemptible way to attack on me.
He was joined in this by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny. I was in Cuba attending the funeral of Fidel Castro. The remarks of both men were despicable. Both misrepresented the context of my efforts to help the family of Brian Stack. These efforts were clearly on the public record from that time in 2013. The have also misrepresented my communication with the Garda Commissioner.
This week they repeated spurious accusations that were dealt with extensively by me in the media during the election campaign when Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and some elements in the press sought to use this issue to attack Sinn Féin electorally. The proposal by Micheál Martin that the Taoiseach should speak to me about a Garda investigation that is ongoing was dishonest and pure party politicking.
I met Austin and Oliver Stack in May 2013 with the objective of seeking to help them get answers and some measure of closure. He and his brother told me that they were seeking acknowledgement of what occurred and were not looking for anyone to go to prison. Throughout this period Austin Stack also said publicly that he was aware of the names of those he believed were involved in or had information about the killing of his father.
In a report in the Independent on the morning of our meeting he is quoted saying: “I am confident that I know the identity of the killer and the identity of the individual who sanctioned it and I want Gerry Adams to talk to his organisation and try to get people who know something to talk to us.”
This is a position he has repeated many times. In another Independent article on February 25th this year Austin Stack speaks about our first meeting. The Independent reported, and I quote: “Asked what they were looking for, Austin said there were people ‘who sit around the parliamentary party table’ with Mr. Adams who were in Portlaoise at the time and who may have information about his father’s murder.”
Austin Stack has denied giving me names. How could I ask anyone to meet with the family, as he publicly and privately asked me to do, if Mr. Stack had not given me the names? Why on earth would I say that I received the names from him if I didn’t?
Austin Stack told me that he had been given these names by journalistic and Garda sources. At his request I contacted those I could. They denied having any information about the killing of Brian Stack and declined to meet the Stack family at that time. I told Austin Stack this.
In August 2013 I was able, with some difficulty, to facilitate a meeting between Austin and Oliver Stack and a former senior IRA person. The brothers were given a statement by the former IRA person which acknowledged that the IRA was responsible for their father’s death; that it regretted that it took so long to clarify this for them; that the shooting of Brian Stack was not authorised by the IRA leadership; and that the person who gave the instruction was disciplined. The statement expressed sorrow for the pain and hurt the Stack family suffered.
That statement was publicly made available by the family. In a response following the meeting the family acknowledged that the process “has provided us with some answers that three separate Garda investigations failed to deliver. We would like to thank Deputy Adams for the role he has played in facilitating this outcome.”
In the Laois Nationalist on August 20th Austin Stack states: “What we got last Monday and in the (IRA) statement brought a huge element of closure for us …”
Since then I have been very disappointed by the way in which this issue has turned out. I am not surprised at the way in which Sinn Féin’s political opponents have dealt with this but my meetings with the family and my agreement to try to help was done in good faith. This was especially true during the election campaign earlier this year when this issue was deliberately and cynically exploited for electoral purposes by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. A lot of what was rehearsed then was a repeat of what was written in 2013.
However, in addition there were claims made that I was withholding information from the Garda. The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan speaking on February 21st 2016 said of me: “He has been given certain important information. He needs to actively use this information to ensure that the murder investigation can be intensified.” In this context, and to remove any uncertainty or ambiguity about this, I decided to pass on to the Garda Commissioner the names that Austin Stack had given me.
I made it clear in my correspondence with the Garda Commissioner that I have no information on the death of Brian Stack and I have never at any time described those named as suspects. The email was only sent after I had spoken to three of the four. Only the Gardaí can investigate this matter.
I have no hesitation in stating my preparedness to co-operate with the Garda on this. Sinn Féin has worked consistently to resolve the issues of the past. The families of all victims deserve truth. That goes for all families, including the Stack family, the victims of the Dublin Monaghan bombs, the Finucane family, and including those who were victims of the IRA.
Sinn Féin has worked to put in place a legacy process that addresses the needs of victims. In the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements we agreed mechanisms to deal with legacy matters.
As part of our commitment to this I have over the years met many families, like that of Brian Stack, who have lost loved ones. All of their stories are equally harrowing. The grief and trauma suffered by all of these families is the same.
There can be no hierarchy of victims. All victims must be treated on the basis of equality. This is the context in which I met Austin and Oliver Stack and in which I tried to secure answers for them. Sinn Féin is determined to ensure that the legacy agreements that have been achieved are implemented.
My generation of republican activists who lived through and survived the war have a responsibility to try and bring the families of victims of the war, irrespective of who was responsible, to a better place.