Saturday 16 December 2017

'I just want the truth about my husband's murder' - Sheila's message to Gerry Adams

Husband and dad Brian served the State . . . and the State let him down

Austin, Sheila and Oliver Stack. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Austin, Sheila and Oliver Stack. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Brian Stack. Photo: Irish Prisons/PA Wire
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A gold medal for bravery within the Irish Prison Service is awarded in the name of Brian Stack. Now all his family hope is that those who were involved in his murder and the subsequent cover up will themselves be brave enough to come forward with the truth.

"We know what happened to him but the people who did it just need to tell the truth," his widow, Sheila, and sons Austin and Oliver say together.

"We just want everyone to tell the truth - we have no intention of a vendetta or to lock people up. It's just the truth," continues Austin.

The family have joined the Irish Independent for an interview to discuss a momentous week - and the turmoil of the past 33 years. They are conscious of the timing, in the last week before the country goes to the polls.

But it is Gerry Adams who has made this an election issue and not them, they insist.

However they feel the Irish electorate voting on Friday need to know that two serving politicians, allies of Gerry Adams, were sitting in the room when the operation to assassinate Brian Stack was ordered and planned.

They are angry at Mr Adams' recent claims that the Stacks have revealed to him the names of the two IRA members that they have been told, by a wide number of sources, shot their father in the neck as he left a boxing match in Dublin in 1983.

They have never given Mr Adams these names, insist Austin and Oliver.

"We never did," says Austin.

Mr Adams' claim that the Stack family should 'move on' and that Mr Adams is himself also a victim of the Troubles is deeply insulting to them.

Having spoken with eight other families from the Republic who lost loved ones in the Troubles, Austin says he is aware of the abiding legacy of that strife 30 years on.

Alcoholism, mental illness and in one case, homelessness, have been the direct result, he reveals.

"It's very easy for Sinn Féin to say to move on but we're living with this every day.

"For Adams to say that he's a victim too and that we should move on is a very cold attitude towards human life," says Oliver.

The family has also been left angry, hurt and without anywhere to turn to address the injustices of Martin Ferris - who claimed in his book that Brian Stack had been a 'vindictive' character.

Sheila pauses to regain her composure as she tells how at the age of 39, her life, and those of her three young sons were shattered in a single blow.

The man who wielded the gun outside the National Boxing Stadium in Dublin had been leaning against the wall reading a newspaper before firing the shot.

Brian (48) was a family man who handed over the envelope containing his weekly cheque to his wife, unopened.

"He never cared about money," she says.

Her two sons interrupt to recall how, out of the 'few bob' that their father had been handed by Sheila - having been forced to take it - he had purchased a tent one summer for them.

Brian spent three months in a coma at the Meath hospital. His sons were not allowed to see him - though Austin remembers one visit after a football match when a nurse urged him to read out the names of the players from the programme.

At the mention of one man on the panel - a former prison officer - Austin registered "recognition" in his father's eyes.

"That proved that he was listening to us," he said.

Brian was moved to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire where he spent the next nine months.

When he was finally sent home, Sheila found herself faced with the future of a husband who was "no more than three-years-old", she says quietly.

"He could do nothing for himself. Everything from brushing his hair to scratching his nose had to be done for him.

"He was paralysed from the shoulders down."

The three Stack boys, Austin (14), Kieran (13) and Oliver (12) had to be dispatched to boarding school. There was no other way Sheila could manage, she explains.

Austin laughs as he admits that he loved it as it meant he escaped the "watchful eye".

As the studious one in the family, Kieran also fared well.

But Oliver was the one who minded most. "I hated being sent away from home," he says quietly. With so much on her plate, Sheila could not press the gardai in the 1980s to continue their investigation. The family said Gardai later admitted that the file was "placed on a shelf" after the funeral.

The inquest failed to address the key issues.

And to compound their pain, the family discovered last Christmas that Brian's brain and spinal cord had been retained by then State Pathologist Prof John Harbison - and their whereabouts are still unknown.

Some 18 months after the shooting, Brian became agitated and had to receive an injection for anxiety which affected his breathing, and he passed away shortly afterwards.

"Sinn Féin tried to make out that he was a man with an illness," says Oliver.

"He wasn't ill - he had a disability which he didn't have before he was shot."

But much more than the legacy of loss and the failure by senior Republicans to admit the truth, is that the family has been gravely let down by the State.

"Brian served the State and the State let him down," says Sheila. "There has been no willingness to help us."

Irish Independent

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