Sunday 28 May 2017

Ferris unrepentant about criticism of Stack and repeats Nazi slur against prison officers

Regrets: Martin Ferris Picture: Tom Burke
Regrets: Martin Ferris Picture: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

'Stack was a particularly vindictive individual. He would never forget a previous incident, and if he took a dislike to a certain prisoner, he would wait until a suitable opportunity arose to punish the man in some way or other.

He thought nothing of having officers hold a prisoner while he struck him with his baton during a strip search."

That is how Martin Ferris recalled the late Brian Stack, the most senior uniformed officer in Portlaoise Prison for much of the Kerry TD's earlier terms of imprisonment there.

The reminiscence came in his 2005 biography 'Martin Ferris - Man of Kerry', written by journalist and football mentor, Jo Jo Barrett. The assessment of Mr Stack surfaces again amid Brian Stack's sons' efforts to find out about their father's murder by the IRA in 1983 and Sinn Féin's insistence they cannot offer more help. The memory focuses on a period in the 1970s when he was jailed for IRA membership.

Martin Ferris was IRA officer in command at Portlaoise and his jail reminiscences shed an interesting light on a gut struggle between staff and prisoners for control of the prison's day-to-day administration. But these personal reflections on Mr Stack, more than 20 years after his murder, added to the bereaved family's distress.

In an intriguing interview with Jerry O'Sullivan on Radio Kerry, Mr Ferris was asked if he regretted what he had said about Brian Stack.

The answer suggested he was embarrassed that it was included in the book - but he was otherwise unrepentant and even managed to allude to Hitler and the SS.

Here is the extract:

Jerry O'Sullivan: Was the killing of Brian Stack wrong?

Ferris: Of course it was.

JO'S: Do you regret writing about him in your biography that he was a particularly vindictive individual who was despised by prisoners, other republicans and also other prison officers, his colleagues?

Ferris: "When I was being interviewed for that book, I was asked a question about prison management. And what I said about prison management, and particularly about Brian Stack, I wish it wasn't in the book. Let's put it that way, but it was.

"What I said about prison management was very very consistent with what was said at the Prison Officers' conference in 1982 and I'll quote from it if you want to, where two delegates stood up and said if Hitler was looking for SS men he need look no further than prison management in Portlaoise Prison."

In his 2005 jail reminisces, Mr Ferris makes it clear who he felt should have been running Portlaoise Prison: the IRA command structure.

"The prisoners knew full well that without their cooperation it would not be possible to run the prison."

Oddly enough, the prison governor and his senior officers, including Brian Stack, felt it was their job to run Portlaoise Prison, and not pander to internal IRA jail hierarchies. Mr Ferris also recalls this: "Governor O'Reilly and his staff believed otherwise, hence their attempt to destroy the republican unit and treat the prisoners simply as individuals."

The book recounts that it all led to clashes and much tension between prison staff and the IRA prisoners.

Mr Ferris alleges the governor and his staff set up a "heavy gang" of what the book continually refers to in jail argot as "screws" - otherwise known as prison officers.

Brian Stack was the most senior uniformed officer at Portlaoise and for Mr Ferris his role was more about directing than inflicting violence mainly at the hands of the heavy gang. Violence was accompanied by intimidation and insults.

Mr Ferris does not tell us about the prisoners' response in any great detail as he catalogues a list of prisoner grievances. But suddenly he offers this little gem.

"We tried to burn the prison, and this was to highlight the terrible, inhumane conditions which were by then deteriorating rapidly within the prison. We wanted to focus public attention on our plight," he recalls in the book.

There were consequences flowing from the attempt to burn Portlaoise Prison.

Every prisoner in the place, including non-IRA prisoners, found themselves on lock-up 23 hours per day. "We had one hour's exercise," he recalled which was organised one prison landing at a time.

In July and August 1976 remembered by many people of a certain age as one of the hottest summers of that decade.

We are, overall, left to conclude that the prison authorities won that battle.

Free association among the IRA prisoners on various landings was ended because free movement was restricted.

"It was effectively breaking the chain of command of the IRA in the prison," he recalled in the book.

On Radio Kerry this week, Mr Ferris insisted he did not know that Brian Stack had been killed by the IRA until about two years ago. He did not have difficulty being cited in an email from Mr Adams because it did not accuse him of anything.

Above all, he argued there were many "victims" of the Troubles. A friend of his died tragically after his release from Portlaoise because of his prison sufferings.

Irish Independent

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