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Thursday 14 December 2017

Adams, a shadowy meeting, an explosive email and a story that is riddled with holes

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Niall O’Connor

As Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams took to his feet to deliver an unprecedented Dáil address on the murder of prison officer Brian Stack, two individuals began to take copious notes.

One was Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader, who has consistently highlighted the despicable treatment suffered by so many families at the hands of Sinn Féin and the IRA.

The other was Austin Stack, who has - despite the best attempts of the Sinn Féin party - refused to give up hope of discovering who murdered his father.

Almost a fortnight ago, I informed Austin that our newspaper was about to publish the details of an email sent by Mr Adams to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.

The correspondence, which ties three serving Sinn Féin figures to the 1983 killing, was sent at 8.40pm on February 23 - just three days before the General Election.

The contents of the email are nothing short of extraordinary and have caused considerable shock to the Stack family.

The leader of one of Ireland's most prominent political parties told the head of the State's police force that three politicians within his own party ranks may have information on the murder of Brian Stack.

Perhaps these individuals, whose names Mr Adams passed to Commissioner O'Sullivan voluntarily, know the identities of the hit squad which gunned down a servant of the State.

Or perhaps they are aware of the details of the sophisticated operation that led to the execution of an innocent husband and father- of-three. Did any of these individuals lose sleep over the fact Brian Stack spent 18 months in a coma, lying brain-dead, before finally passing?

Or did they consider how Brian's wife Sheila was coping as she tried to explain to her three young sons, Austin, Kieran and Oliver, that their beloved father had been shot dead by the Provos?

These are some of the questions that were thrown back and forth between Austin and I before the Irish Independent decided to publish details of the Adams email. But among the various concerns discussed was the prospect of the garda investigation into Brian Stack's murder being somehow compromised.

My editors and I discussed over several days whether we would name the politicians at the centre of the case - therefore allowing them to answer for themselves why they were cited in an email by their own party leader.

But out of respect to the Stack family and the investigation - and the fact we are not protected by Dáil privilege - we decided to withhold the names of Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, another Sinn Féin politician and a former senior IRA commander.

That has now all changed following the extraordinary events in the Dáil last night.

Gerry Adams can be accused of many things, but staying quiet on issues relating to his troublesome past is not one of them.

The Louth TD was in Havana, Cuba, when our story broke last Tuesday week (inset right). Last Thursday, he finally broke his silence during an interview with broadcaster Michael Reade on LMFM. Mr Reade gave him the space he needed to explain the reasons behind sending the email and his knowledge of the Stack murder.

The interview will go down as one of the biggest regrets of Mr Adams's political career. Over 20 minutes, he created far more questions than had ever been posed before.

But more significantly, he gave the public a fresh insight into the crucial meeting close to the border between Austin and Oliver Stack and a senior member of the IRA.

Mr Adams organised this meeting.

The IRA figure told the Stack family that he investigated what happened to their father and that the man who pulled the trigger had been disciplined.

Maybe he was knee-capped. Perhaps he was given a beating. Or he could have simply been handed a verbal warning. I can't answer that question, for I am not privy to the ins and outs of the IRA rulebook.

But Gerry Adams knows.

He knows the name of the IRA figure who conducted this kangaroo court-style probe and where he lives. He has his phone number too. Has he given this information to the gardaí? I have asked him several times, but he won't respond. A major part of the narrative of this story has been who is telling the truth. Mr Adams claims Austin Stack gave him the names of the individuals contained in the email. Mr Stack swears this is not the case.

Mr Adams's own deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said in an interview with the 'Irish Times' that Mr Adams gave the information to the Commissioner without delay. But Mr Adams admitted on Saturday that he did not supply the details until February 2016 - two and a half years later.

There is only one story that is riddled with holes here. Fine Gael deputy Alan Farrell would not have resorted to using Dáil privilege to name Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris had Mr Adams done so.

But Mr Farrell has courage. He is an unusual politician who decided to take on the Sinn Féin machine - a task that is not as easy as it might seem.

But this is not about Farrell, Adams, Ellis or Ferris for that matter. It is about one family who, as the days go on, fear their loved one's murder will remain unsolved.

Who's who in the Stack bombshell

Martin Ferris

II Deputy (79).png
Martin Ferris. Photo: Tom Burke

Martin Ferris is among the direct links between IRA activism and the current Sinn Féin party at Leinster House.

The 64-year-old Kerry former fisherman and farmer had been an IRA activist all through the 1970s and 1980s, serving time in prison on several occasions and for a time going on hunger-strike over jail conditions.

In 1984 he was arrested on board the Marita Ann, which was carrying a large cargo of explosives and arms, and he subsequently served 10 years in Portlaoise Prison. Soon after his release, in late 1994, he was elected to the Sinn Féin national executive and he began to focus on local political activity.

He stood for the Dáil in Kerry North without success in June 1997, but was elected to Kerry County Council in May 1999. He was elected to the Dáil in 2002, unseating former Tánaiste and Labour leader Dick Spring.

He has held his Dáil seat at three general elections since.

Martin Ferris was at the centre of controversy after the 1996 IRA killing of Garda Jerry McCabe outside a post office in Adare, Co Limerick, during a botched dole and pensions robbery.

He later went out of his way to support those convicted in connection with Garda McCabe's shooting and drove some of them home on their release from prison.

In February 2005, then-Justice Minister Michael McDowell used Dáil privilege to name Martin Ferris, among others, as a member of the IRA's ruling army council.

"We're talking about a small group of people, including a number of elected representatives, who run the whole (republican) movement. We're talking about Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris and others," Mr McDowell said. This was swiftly rejected by Mr McGuinness and Mr Ferris and Mr Adams has always insisted he was never a member of the IRA.

Alan Farrell

Alan Farrell

Alan Farrell's unprecedented decision to name two Sinn Féin TDs in connection with murder has brought the TD firmly into the spotlight.

Despite feeling hard done by at not getting a junior ministry earlier this year, the Fine Gael politician has kept his powder dry within the party.

But his 'backbench' status meant that he was one of the few Fine Gael TDs who could confidently make the calculated political risk of using Dáil privilege to name the politicians.

Had a minister done so, they would almost certainly be facing calls to resign their position for abuse of Dáil privilege.

Mr Farrell is a second-term TD, having surprised many by surviving a tough battle in Dublin-Fingal at the expense of his party colleague, former minster James Reilly.

Only a small number of Fine Gael TDs were present for Mr Adams's speech as the party had a meeting around the same time.

Many were surprised to learn of their colleague's intervention by text message.

While some were surprised, Mr Farrell is known to speak his mind at internal party meetings and was one of the TDs selected to compile a review of the February's disappointing election result.

Dessie Ellis

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Dessie Ellis

Dessie Ellis, a Sinn Féin TD for Dublin North West, was known during his long career in the IRA as an accomplished bomb-maker and explosives expert.

He was arrested in 1981 and charged with possession of explosives in Dublin. He jumped bail and fled to the US but was arrested in Buffalo, New York, months later and extradited back to Ireland.

In April 1983 he was sentenced to a ten-year jail term which he served in Portlaoise Prison. One of his fellow inmates during much of his time behind bars was Kerry TD Martin Ferris.

In 1990, amid a lengthy protest hunger strike, he was extradited to Britain to face charges of causing explosions there. He was eventually acquitted of those charges in 1991.

A native of Finglas in north Dublin, he ran his own television repair business when not in prison or on the run. He was elected to Dublin City Council in June 1999 and again in 2004 and 2009. He was unsuccessful in two Dáil elections, in 2002, and again in 2007 when he came close.

But in February 2011 he polled almost a full quota and was elected to the second of three seats in Dublin North West. Fianna Fáil's Pat Carey and Noel Ahern, both former ministers, lost out.

Mr Ellis held the seat earlier this year. He lists his hobbies as football and karate and still practises the latter at the age of 63.

Irish Independent

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