Adams’ tactical management of his secret past keeps coming back to bite…

Interesting development at a press conference in Dublin this morning, when Austin Stack accused Gerry Adams of lying to Dail Eireann when he made his statement. That’s a serious accusation since Parliament operates on the basis that all elected members are acting in good faith.

Nor is it surprising, since the clear and direct implication of Adams’ rather strident account in the Dail yesterday is that Stack is lying. For party loyalists (who have been through a deal worse at the hands of their leader) it’s water off the proverbial duck’s back.

It also demonstrates how much Adams’ present is continuously limited and prescribed by his own secret past in the demimonde that surrounds the Provisionals.  It’s made him tough, brassnecked and resilient. Yet it also curtails the party’s efforts to develop beyond violent war stories.

If Stack is right (and there’s no sound reason to doubt him), then Adams is treating fellow his parliamentarians with contempt and misleading the Dail. No one else could get away that (including junior members of his own party), but the fact that he can and does put down limits for his party too.

The Fianna Fail leader has played a fairly straight bat with all Adams’ serial transgressions (particularly in regard to his failure to uphold constitutional law) over the last four years. On Sean O’Rourke this morning, he was grilled pretty thoroughly on his part in keeping the story live:

Sean O’Rourke (SOR): Isn’t it the reality of the situation is that the only basis on which Gerry Adams could help the Stack family was on the basis of confidentiality?

Micheal Martin (MM): I don’t accept that Sean. I don’t buy the cloak around which Gerry Adams tried to cloak himself yesterday in terms of the peace process and the confidentiality issue and all of that, because he gave four names subsequently to the Garda Commissioner. He says in that statement yesterday:

“I made it clear to the Garda Commissioner that I have no information on the death of Brian Stack.The e-mail was sent only after I had spoken to three of the four.There is a live Garda investigation. I am prepared to co-operate with this.”

Those were the words of Gerry Adams yesterday in the Dail. That’s not a true statement. He does have information in relation to the death of Brian Stack because he was there at a meeting with an IRA leader who told the Stack sons, the sons of Brian Stack, and Gerry Adams, that not only had the IRA carried out this, and denied it for thirty years but they had disciplined the guy who gave the order. So the point is he can’t say in Dail Eireann yesterday Sean that he has no information. He has.

SOR: Well you don’t know that for sure. Eoin O Murchu was making the point on Late Debate last night that Adams may not even have known the identity of the person to whom he brought the Stack brothers.

MM: Do you believe that? Do you believe it? I can’t put you in that position, but I don’t beleive that. But my point is what Gerry Adams does know is that he knows somebody who he described to the Stacks as a trusted friend and confidente. He knows that person and he knows that person has key knowledge about the murder of Brian Stack. Yet he comes into the Dail and says he has no information. And, by the way, in the note that was revealed yesterday, apparently it is in the Sinn Fein record of the meeting, he was advised legally that he shouldn’t get into this process because he might not give information to the Garda Commissioner he could be accused of withholding information. Bingo! That’s exactly the point. And Gerry Adams has withheld key information that would be of enormous assistence to the Gardai in getting to the bottom of this crime.

SOR: Let me again quote Eoin O Murchu is the demand here is that Gerry Adams play a role in bringing former IRA leaders before the courts. The whole peace process being based on the idea that we would move beyond a position of conflict.

MM: Sorry, Gerry Adams repeatedly in Leinster House wants to bring others to justice for crimes. He constantly asks Enda Kenny to meet a particular group that were wronged, and I’ve no difficulty by the way with seeking justice on the Finucane case and other cases, that’s a legitimate part of the Good Friday Agreement, where they want those who committed those crimes brought to justice and made culpable. That is true and that is correct. But you can’t have it both ways.

SOR: In making peace, the government of which you were a member for, what, thirteen or fourteen years, you had to hold your nose in agreeing to certain things, like the release of prisoners, people who had done the most dreadful things, including indeed the murder of Gerry McCabe, but ultimately they were released because it had to be done.

MM: Hold on a second. The people who were involved in Gerry McCabe were not released in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. And in no way was any attempt made to suggest that they should never be brought to justice. No one has immunity from crimes committed during the troubles. There are many live investigations under way in relation to murders during this period of conflict. And in terms of the Republic and the murder of a prison officer, the only prison officer [so murdered], are people seriously suggesting that there should be no legitimate pursuit of those who carried out that crime? That the IRA who claim [it] and their colleagues in Sinn Fein, including Gerry Adams, knowingly denied this for thirty years.

SOR: Isn’t what’s happening now is the targeting of Sinn Fein, the old Lyndon Baines Johnson thing: ‘let’s hear the bastards deny it’?

MM: No. What it is really is is that certain families will not go away. And that’s the big problem for Sinn Fein. The Stacks didn’t go away. That’s the problem for Gerry Adams, and there’s been various attempts by Sinn Fein to try and manouvre families who are awkward for them, awkward for their political project, that’s the real nub of this.

SOR: And there’s great political hay to be made by people like yourself?

MM: There is great courage due to Austin Stack, Oliver Stack and people who have the perserverance to keep at this, and there’s other families of who have done it as well in terms crimes that was committed agains their loved ones.  We have a responsibility and an oblication to point this up. Sinn Fein  is very adept at attacking others, attacking the integrity of others.

SOR: That may well be, but do you honestly think that there is any prospect whatsoever  that Gerry Adams can have people brought before the courts for that crime committed thirty three years ago?

MM: Well he gave four names, why?

SOR: Because he was under pressure, he says, from people like you and in Fine Gael during an election because you saw it as a means of attacking him.

MM: I didn’t even know he gave them.

SOR: He gave them because he was being attacked in regard to the Brian Stack murder.

MM: But he didn’t tell anyone during the election that he was giving names to anybody. He didn’t tell anybody he was doing this. Now, I suspect he was doing it he was doing it to cover his back. He has said it himself, which was very disingenuous by the way, and a dishonest way of doing things as well. And he more or less said “for the avoidance of doubt” in the Dail yesterday  which I take to be code for I’m watching my back here.

SOR: Look realities have to be accepted here, and the fact is that Gerry Adams will never admit to being a member of the IRA.

MM: I don’t accept that political evaluation Sean, sorry. He is a participant in a parliamentary democracy and obviously in the Republic. He either plays by the rules of that parliamentary democracy or he doesn’t. He can’t live in a parallel universe. He cannot expect different sets of rules of accountability than any other party leader in Leinster House, or any other TD or Senator in the Oireachtas.

SOR: You’re a historian by academic training and you’ve written about stirring times in your own part of the world. I mean how helpful would have been in the 1950s if people were constantly dragging up the events of the 1920s with other Deputries in the Dail? That’s what you’re doing now.

MM: I’m not doing it. Remember how this happened? The Stack family want to know who murdered their dad. That’s where this begins and ends. That’s it. A distinguished, loyal servant of the State who was murdered in unacceptable circumstances. That’s it. And I think there is an onus on all parliamentary parties of Leinster House…

SOR: Go back to the 1950s? RIC men. Perfectly upstanding servants of this state, who were murdered, shot in their beds by your forebears in the Fianna Fail party, and indeed people in other parties as well. I mean what would have been the point of bringing all that up? When we’re trying to go forward with the peace process, with nation building. And, where is all this going to get us?

MM: I think where it has to get us is proper accountability in the first place. Establishing the rule of law, where murder occurs in this state that people are made accountable.   Are you suggesting that the murder of Brian Stack is somehow part of some political conflict? I don’t think it was. And let me say this. The attempts by the IRA to demonise Brian Stack is a further compounding of the appalling murder itself. In the biography that Martin Ferris writes, he describes him as ‘a cruel and vindictive man’. He was anything but the sort. And likewise in the IRA statement that they gave to the Stack sons, they say ‘oh there was terrible cruelty visited upon the prisoners and their families that was the context in which your father was killed. That is adding insult to injury. In other words there was the context. There was no bloody context. The only context I could see was that the IRA were planning a break out and Mr Stack was getting in the way of that.

SOR: Do you accept what was said by way of an admission, in so far as it went, that it wasn’t authorised and it shouldn’t have happened?

MM: I don’t. I think the IRA authorised it. Like the language, like “it was wrong”? That’s the kind of langauge Sinn Fein trot out all the time. It was horrible, it was savage and deserves to be condemned. Not just wrong and move on please.

It’s worth listening to the whole thing, not least because O’Rourke is such a thorough interrogator. Oddly, apart from a very good interview on Radio Foyle with Austin Stack, the story seems to have barely penetrated to NI.

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