John Downing: Yes, Gerry, we are fussy when it comes to brutal murder and the vilification of victims
Gerry Adams is quite right. “The Independent group of newspapers will have a little field day…” the Sinn Féin president said, amid another all-too-familiar mess of weasel words which amount to equivocation and a reordering of historic fact.
He was talking about the case of Tom Oliver, a hard-working father-of-seven, brutally murdered at the age of 37, and then crudely vilified by the IRA.
Mr Oliver’s murder was a crime in July 1991 of such brutality it caused thousands, from every corner of Ireland, to join his neighbours on the Cooley Peninsula in Louth in a major protest rally.
He had six young daughters and one little son. “I will never forget, as long as I live, the screams of his wife and the children when they went to the morgue, or the awful silence of the people who went into the yard outside to wait for them coming out,” a neighbour later recalled.
Mr Oliver’s case stands out from among the other 1,770 IRA murders, in part due to the contemptible efforts to calumniate his memory. His killers falsely claimed he was an IRA collaborator who often stored arms and equipment on his farm, and later informed gardaí.
The claims enraged locals who believed he had found an IRA arms cache on his land which he told gardaí about. The local GAA club formed a guard of honour at his funeral, played their next game wearing black armbands, and hosted the protest rally. In the ensuing years, his killers were not found. But unbowed by the passage of time, gardaí have reopened the case. Mr Adams, now a TD for Louth, has been urged by many to help. Mr Adams, who was never in the IRA, also insists he knows nothing about Mr Oliver’s murder.
“My information on this is limited to what I read about at the time,” he said.
He is not short of kind, retrospective words for the Oliver family. But he is adamant he was ill-used in his efforts to help the family of murdered prison officer Brian Stack find out about his fate at the hands of IRA killers. Unsurprisingly, Mr Adams argues the British authorities are to blame here also. He says the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement has a provision for investigating historic cases such as this. But the British government has failed to legislate for it.
How very convenient. The reality is the bulk of the Stormont House Agreement has not been acted on. The failure of Sinn Féin and the DUP to do adult politics together is the big stumbling block, from dealing with a Brexit future to resolving a very disquieting past. It is the duty of this and other media organisations to point out these realities.
Mr Adams’s stance will also be noted by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who is having to cope with colleagues’ coalition overtures to Sinn Féin. It is another reminder of Sinn Féin’s still murky past.
If Mr Adams and his Sinn Féin allies see this as the Irish Independent and its sister publications “having a little field day” so be it. We will bear up and get on with things.
So there you have it, Mr Adams. We can finally agree on at least one thing.
At the “Independent group of newspapers”, we are indeed unswerving when it comes to brutal murder and efforts to calumniate a murder victim’s memory.