Belfast Telegraph

Could 1983 Brian Stack murder signal final act in Adams' long career?

The Sinn Fein leader is mired in controversy over an IRA killing that may lead to his political downfall, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Hopes that Gerry Adams might be on the verge of resigning to spend more time with his teddy bears were quickly dashed on Wednesday when the Sinn Fein leader stood up in the Dail to make a much-anticipated personal statement.

But it's a measure of the seriousness with which his ham-fisted handling of allegations around the IRA murder of prison officer Brian Stack in 1983 is being taken that there is still a good chance that the saga might indeed constitute the final chapter of Gerry's long career.

The chief prison officer in Portlaoise jail was shot in the neck on March 25 that year after leaving a boxing contest at Dublin's National Stadium; paralysed and brain-damaged, he clung on to life for another 18 months before succumbing to his injuries.

Austin Stack approached Adams in 2013, the 30th anniversary of the shooting, because he was tired of delays in finding out who had killed his father and, more importantly, why.

Adams probably thought that arranging a meeting between Austin and the IRA would finally put the issue to bed. Instead, that episode just raised more questions about his own judgment and about Sinn Fein's demeaning role as a messenger boy for a paramilitary gang.

Austin and his brother were driven north across the border in a blacked-out van to a secret location, where they were handed a typewritten statement in which the IRA finally admitted responsibility for murdering their father.

The idea that an elected politician in any other democratic country would consider it appropriate to shuttle members of the public around in blacked-out vans to clandestine meetings with serial killers was absurd.

Adams' inability to distinguish between normal political behaviour and abnormal paramilitary pantomimes was newly exposed.

What followed afterwards took the episode into even stranger territory. Adams announced that the two brothers had given him specific names of people who might have questions to answer about the murder. He also said that the Stack brothers had told him they got those names from sources inside the Garda.

Austin vehemently denied this. Indeed, he said, plausibly, that while being in possession of some names, he had deliberately made a decision not to share them with Adams, as he felt that this would be letting Sinn Fein off the hook.

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Brian Stack murder: Gerry Adams statement to Dáil in full 

Rather than coming clean itself on what it knew, it could simply pass off any information as having been given it by him. He wasn't about to hand it that easy victory.

As a result pressure continued to grow on Adams to tell all. For more than two years he stubbornly resisted.

Then it emerged that, three days before the Republic's general election last February, Adams had, indeed, emailed Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan with the names of three fellow members of his party who might have information to share on the murder of Brian Stack. This information, which came as a particular shock to the Stack family, did not come out until a couple of weeks ago, since when pressure has built even further.

Adams himself was not initially around to clarify the matter, as he was in Cuba for the funeral of communist dictator Fidel Castro. This, at least, gave him time to get his story straight as calls grew back home for him to make an unprecedented personal statement to the Dail to clear the fog of confusion.

Expecting him to do so may have been another triumph of hope over experience, as his statements rarely bring any light to a contentious issue; Adams has many party tricks, but coming clean isn't one of them.

There was also a measure of political opportunism in rival parties' calls for him to make himself accountable, but that's the nature of politics.

That others might seek to take advantage of your discomfort does not absolve you of responsibility for doing the right thing by victims. In the event, what did for him this week was not that he was made to explain his actions, but that his account remains as clear as mud.

Rising to speak, Adams stuck to his story that the names of the fellow politicians which he had passed to the Garda Commissioner by email months ago had been given to him originally by the sons of the murdered Brian Stack.

He also insisted that it had never been his intention to implicate them in the killing. He had simply been told, he said, that they were people who might have relevant information.

Whether that was much comfort to his colleagues, who are in the bizarre position of having been incriminated by their own leader, is unlikely.

What is even more inconvenient for Adams is that Austin still refuses to stay silent, turning up at a Press conference being held by Adams at a Dublin hotel, where he openly accused the Sinn Fein leader of lying. Austin's view of Adams' conduct is that it is nothing but "an attempt to grossly deceive the public".

Adams, who has often threatened to take legal action against those who publicly question his various versions of events, has been reduced to playing the wounded innocent.

Once again his reputation for being an unreliable witness has come back to haunt him and there's no immediately obvious way out.

His defenders in the party in Dublin have been notably lukewarm. If Gerry is a cat, one might even suspect that his nine lives have finally run out.

He's been extraordinarily lucky so far that none of the controversies which would have finished off the leader of any normal democratic party has managed to dislodge him.

But what it really shows is the immense power of victims when they refuse to stay silent and do as they're told.

Adams thought he could "handle" Austin Stack, fobbing him off with a bone and trusting that he'd just go away and gnaw on it contentedly.

Austin, however, had discovered what many others before him had learned: that when you look for answers from Gerry, it just usually raises more questions. So he went on asking them.

Adams is at the centre of attention right now, because he's knee-deep in another mess of his own creation, but Austin is the man who dominates this story.

Like Ann Travers, he's a reminder that victims don't have to shut up and take it in the name of the peace process.

On the contrary, the peace process owes it to them to provide the answers that they are seeking.

Those who made them suffer must never be allowed to forget what they did.

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