THE family of an assassinated prison officer have pleaded for a face-to-face meeting with his killers after the IRA finally admitted it was behind the murder.
Thirty years on from the gun attack on Brian Stack, his sons were driven in a blacked-out van last week to an undisclosed location where a former Provo chief admitted responsibility.
In a statement, typed up on an old typewriter and handed to Austin and Oliver Stack in a bungalow somewhere in Ireland, the IRA said the shooting was not sanctioned.
"This action was not authorised by the IRA leadership and for this reason the IRA denied any involvement," it states.
"Some years later, when the Army Council discovered that its volunteers had shot Prison Officer Brian Stack, the volunteer responsible for the instruction was disciplined."
But the statement said the IRA killers involved were acting under orders.
"This operation should not have taken place," it states.
"While the IRA can no longer comment on this matter, let me express my sorrow for the pain and hurt your family suffered."
Austin and Oliver, who have campaigned for decades to get answers about their father's killing, were accompanied to the meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
They said they were forced into going down this avenue because Garda detectives had botched the original murder inquiry and detectives now in charge of the case were refusing to co-operate with the family.
Father-of-three Brian Stack was chief prison officer at Portlaoise, which housed republican inmates, when he was shot in the back of the neck on March 25 1983 after leaving a boxing contest at Dublin's National Stadium.
Left paralysed and brain-damaged, he suffered for a further 18 months before dying from his injuries at the age of 47.
The IRA, who denied the murder at the time, has now told the Stack family the "brutal prison regime" at Portlaoise was "the context in which IRA volunteers shot your father".
Austin Stack, who followed in his father's footsteps and is now assistant governor of Dublin's Wheatfield Prison, and his brother Oliver first asked Gerry Adams in May if he could help secure an IRA confession.
They had to seek answers themselves after three separate Garda investigations failed to find any individual or organisation responsible.
A cold case review uncovered "unsettling aspects and major flaws" in the original inquiry, which appears to have been "seriously compromised", Austin Stack said.
"The Garda authorities have never provided our family with an adequate explanation for these shortcomings," he added.
The family said they remain frustrated with the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation which is currently in charge of case.
"It is our view that the distinct lack of cooperation our family has experienced with the NBCI team is directly linked to the unsettling aspects and major flaws uncovered in the original Garda investigation," said Austin Stack.
They requested a meeting last January with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, but have still received no positive response.
Several meetings with Mr Adams in recent months led to last week's two-hour secret rendezvous with a former top IRA leader. They were told to leave behind phones, and give their word they were not wired, before being driven from the M1 motorway near Dundalk in a blacked out van to their unknown location.
The ex-IRA leader read the statement to them over a table in the private one-storey house, before asking them to transcribe it for themselves.
Austin Stack said the meeting, over tea and biscuits, has brought an element of closure for the family but they still have many unanswered questions, including the identity of the killers and why the Garda probe was "compromised".
"I still want to meet face-to-face with my father's killer," he said.
"I would sit down with him and the first thing I would do, like I did with Gerry Adams, I would explain the effect this had on our family, the effect it had on us.
"I would ask him why he did it, how he feels now at this stage 30 years later, does he have a conscience, does he sleep well at night, those are the sort of questions I would ask him.
"I would actually sit down and have an open, frank discussion with him."
Mr Adams said he wanted to pay tribute to Austin and Oliver, their brother Kieran and mother Sheila.
"On behalf of Sinn Fein I extend my regret at the killing of Brian," he said.
"I hope that these recent developments will help them achieve the closure they have sought for 30 years."