Bertie Ahern made a sensible and probably decisive intervention in the controversy surrounding Gerry Adams and the killing of senior prison officer, Brian Stack, which dominated the headlines and political discourse during the first week of December.
The resurrection of a story involving the shooting of Stack as he left a boxing match in Dublin’s National Stadium in 1983 was prompted by the leak of an email sent by Adams to the Garda Commissioner, NóirIn O Sullivan, during the final days of the general election earlier this year. The email included the names of four people, including Sinn Féin TDs Martin Ferris and Dessie Ellis, said to have possibly useful information pertaining to the death of Stack eighteen months after the attack.
The names, according to Adams, were given to him by Brian’s son, Austin Stack, during his encounters in 2013 with the Sinn Féin leader which culminated in a trip in a van with blacked-out windows to a rendezvous with a senior IRA figure in a house north of the border in August of that year. During the meeting Stack and his brother, Oliver, were given a written statement confirming that members of the IRA had carried out the “unauthorised action” and that one person had been “disciplined” for his role in the attack.
The Stack family said that they were satisfied that the meeting had led to some closure in their 30-year-long quest for the truth about their father’s murder. That was until the general election campaign when Austin Stack said that two senior Sinn Féin politicians were among those involved in his father’s killing. He had provided the information to Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, who did not waste the opportunity to damage Sinn Féin and its leader during the latter stages of the campaign.
This prompted Adams to write the email to the Garda Commissioner with the names he claims had been given to him by Austin Stack during their discussions between 2011 and 2013. He did not describe them as suspects and discussed the fact that he was sending on the names with three of those named before posting the email. The fourth was not contactable, he said. Stack has denied providing the names to Adams which in turn raises the bizarre spectacle of a party leader hanging two prominent allies out to dry for no logical reason.
After Adams made a statement in the Dáil on Wednesday 7 December, Fine Gael TD, Alan Farrell used a point of order request to name Ferris and Ellis based on a copy of the email provided to him by sources whom he did not disclose. He claimed, somewhat puzzlingly and after being accused of breaching Dáil privilege, that he only revealed the names in order to allow his parliamentary colleagues the option of clearing their names of any association with the Stack killing.
Ferris and Ellis were quickly on their feet to do just that and denied any involvement while the Kerry TD confirmed that he had been questioned by gardai in 2013, presumably on the back of the information Garda sources discussed with Stack, and had nothing to answer for.
As the story moved along, a full Claire Byrne RTE radio show on a Saturday was devoted to the controversy with Independent Newspapers reporter, Niall O’Connor, robustly denying that he had fed the leaked emailed information to Farrell. Instead he focused, as many others hostile to Sinn Féin have done, on getting Adams to name the driver of the van in which the Stacks were transported and the IRA man they had met. On the same programme Sinn Féin TD, Peadar Tóibín, warned that the manner in which the issue had been politicised by some politicians and media outlets would make it more difficult for other victims of the conflict in the North to get information concerning their deceased loved ones from Republican ‘combatants’ using Sinn Féin mediators like Adams.
He also noted that he had sought meetings with Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, on behalf of constituents whose family were killed in County Armagh during the 1970s by the notorious Glennane gang which is now known to have included and been directed by agents of the British army and other state security forces. He pointed out that neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil have been exercised over the search for closure by many victims of British state and loyalist forces during the conflict and had done little or nothing to pursue the information-retrieval and truth process negotiated in the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements signed up to by both last year.
As Ahern pointed out, it is understandable why Adams could not go any further than the assistance he gave the Stack family, and many others over the years, and claimed that he had proposed a peace and truth commission “16 or 17 years ago” but that “the kite fell flat”.
Like the constituency motion by his friends in Dublin North Central to bring him back into the party fold (without his knowledge of course), Ahern’s recent attempts to rehabilitate himself is as welcome as Christmas is to turkeys for Micheál Martin, who immediately threw a bucket of cold water on the proposal.
Ahern did himself no favours when he told a Sindo reporter whom he just happened to encounter in the Skylon hotel that he still refuses to accept the findings of the Mahon report, which led to his leaving the party in 2012. He intimated that friends of his, including so called ‘dig out’ merchants Des Richardson who was with him in the hotel, and publican Charlie Chawke had since been vindicated with findings against them removed from the tribunal’s record.
In fact, a finding against Richardson was removed after the tribunal conceded that he had not been given the opportunity to rebut details of a questionable transaction made through a bank account under his control in the late 1990s, while Chawke also successfully challenged the tribunal on a different matter.
The High Court quashed a finding of non cooperation agaist Chawke on the basis that he had not been provided in advance of publication with the tribunal’s adverse findings against him.
However, the tribunal stands over its claim that the so-called “dig outs” never happened and are not an acceptable explanation for the movement of large amounts of money into various accounts controlled by Ahern between 1993 and 1995 when he was finance minister, or the circumstances surrounding his acquisition of a house, or indeed the substantial amounts of Sterling found in his accounts, some of which he said was won on the horses.
Sometimes, for some people, the less said the better.
By Frank Connolly