Tuesday 11 December 2018

'The IRA have been protecting the man who shot my father for 30 years'

Austin Stack and Mairia Cahill
Austin Stack and Mairia Cahill

Austin Stack was only a teenager in 1983 when his father, Brian, the chief prison officer in Portlaoise Prison, was shot in the neck outside the National Stadium in Dublin. He died from his injuries 18 months later. It was an IRA attack, but for years that organisation denied responsibility. Over the years, Austin has carried out inquiries into his father's death, culminating in meetings with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, to try to get the IRA to admit they murdered his father. He recently discovered that the man he believes organised the hit was an alleged paedophile, and has been protected by the republican movement for decades. Last week, Austin Stack spoke to Mairia Cahill

Mairia Cahill: "Why did you decide to meet Gerry Adams?"

Austin Stack: "We knew that the IRA had done this. I wanted the IRA to admit what they had done, to claim responsibility for it. I went to meet Gerry Adams and told him I knew about the sanctioning of the shooting and those who were involved and those who carried it out. I deliberately did not give him the names I knew.

"He said: 'You know Austin, we didn't. It's not how the IRA worked, they didn't go after the security forces down south'. And I said to him: 'Look, it's my belief that they did this and it's my belief that it was sanctioned… I want the IRA to take responsibility for what they did. That's all I want. I'm not interested in people being charged, I'm not here for the gardai, I'm not here for the media, I'm not here for anybody else, only myself and my family because we've gone nowhere with the gardai and I want you guys to tell us you did it. That's it'.

"He tried to play the victim with me, saying: 'You're not the only victims here, I'm a victim too,' and I got a little bit angry. I explained to him what a victim was and how I felt as a victim, as a 14-year-old boy shaving my father, and he (my father) was crying and I was crying. I explained how my mother used to be woken at all hours in the middle of the night to go in and scratch my father's nose and simple things like that. He didn't say anything. He kind of sat back in his chair. Then I said to him I wanted to build trust with him. I said I would trust him if he trusted me. I said trust works both ways… I said: 'I'll trust you if you work with me'.

"He went out of the room for a few minutes and he came back in and he told me he could work with me. So over a period of time we had a number of meetings. He asked me not to talk about a number of named individuals and I didn't, but he did not ask me to keep away from the media. We agreed that there would be certain ways we would do things.

"I went on Prime Time and I gave a fairly extensive interview to Miriam O'Callaghan. Gerry Adams had given an interview in April 2013 to Miriam on the subject as well. I looked at how he was answering the questions and he was saying that he was a victim, he kept saying that he was a victim, and he kept denying that he knew anything about my father's murder. And when I was replaying it, my son Freddie, who was about nine, looked at me and said: 'Daddy you know, that man keeps saying he knows nothing about Granda Brian's murder. Why don't you believe him?' And it struck me, that if you keep telling a lie often enough, sometimes people believe it.

"We had several more meetings but it was all leading up to a meeting with the IRA. As the time approached, he asked: 'Will you be wired?', and I said: 'Absolutely not, you can search us if you want'. He said that wouldn't be necessary, he would trust us, but we had to leave our mobile phones behind.

"The first part of the journey was by car. We were driving along the M1 up towards Dundalk, and Richard McAuley [Sinn Fein press officer], who had joined myself, Oliver [Austin's brother] and Gerry Adams for the journey, looked at his watch and said we were a bit ahead of time. So they veered off the motorway somewhere, and we pulled up. It was August [2013] and the sun was blasting the trees. It was about 11 o'clock in the morning, and we ended up outside this pub with a couple of chairs outside. The pub wasn't open but Gerry Adams went round the back and he came out with this guy, the owner of the pub. Next thing there was coffee and scones. I thought: 'Here we are going off the meet the IRA and we're sitting outside a pub in the scorching heat. I'm talking to Richard McAuley and Gerry Adams about an espresso machine' - McAuley has a fondness for espresso and we were discussing the different pots, which was our favourite. It was surreal.

"Then we got into a blacked-out van. Oliver whispered into my ear: 'Ah Jesus, Austin, they haven't gone away, you know - this van has been used before'. The van had actually ply board screwed into the windows, screwed into the roof, screwed into the place so that you couldn't see into the driver."

MC: "Were you afraid?"

AS: "No. No. I wasn't afraid. People have said to me afterwards, you were brave, or that took some balls or whatever, but I didn't feel any fear, because, first of all, Gerry Adams was with us in the van so, if anything had happened to us, it would have been political suicide for him.

"After about 10 or 15 minutes, the van drew up at the back of a house. The sliding door of the van was opened and then the sliding patio door to the house which we were parked right up against, so we didn't get to see the surroundings outside. It was straight out of the van and into the kitchen. Richard McAuley stayed with the owner of the house in the kitchen and Gerry Adams brought us into a room where a man identified himself as 'John', though he said that wasn't his real name."

MC: "This was the IRA you were meeting?"

AS: "Yeah, 'John' said he was a very senior leading member of the IRA , a senior leadership figure in the IRA at the time of the ceasefire. He said that he had played a leadership role all during the struggle. He said Gerry Adams had asked him to investigate and then get some information, and he was able to do that because of his position in the IRA. He said the IRA had 'gone away', and there was now no kind of structures anymore, and people only gave him information because of who he was.

"Then he said they admitted responsibility, straight up. It was a unit of their organisation that had carried out the shooting; the individual who organised it, did so of his own volition; it hadn't been sanctioned and he got people that were under his command to carry it out. He said the IRA hadn't known for two or three years that it was their people who were involved, and when they did find out they disciplined them. I told him that I didn't find that credible. I was quite forceful on that. I said: 'There is no way your guys could have waited for two or three years to find out that your people were involved'. I said my information was that it was sanctioned, at a very high level, and those who sanctioned it were connected with those who carried it out.

"Gerry Adams suggested that the IRA leadership could have thought it was the INLA at the time. I said the INLA didn't have the organisational ability to do this, and he said they carried out the bomb attack in Airey Neave's car in the Houses of Parliament in London. I said, yeah, but it was the only major thing that the INLA actually pulled off.

"I then said: 'The bottom line is, you guys didn't just sit back. Surely the morning after this happened, you guys woke up and heard that the chief prison officer in Portlaoise was shot - are you telling me it never even dawned on you to ask if your people were involved?' And they said, 'No, because we knew we didn't sanction it'."

MC: "The reason you are doing this interview is because you are now in possession of other information."

AS: "I know the identity of one individual, who, I am led to believe, was the person who put the plan together and organised my father's shooting. I am led to believe he was one of two individuals who were there on the night, my belief is that he was most likely the guy who drove the bike. I was given this name, and others, by two separate sources which have proven to be very reliable in the past. Then other sources confirmed what I had been told.

"But the most recent development that has shocked me is that the name of the man who I am told organised my father's murder, has now come up in relation to investigations into child sex abuse by members of the IRA." (In the case of this man, the allegation is that he was involved in an incident with a 12-year-old girl, an oral sex incident.).

MC: "When did you become aware of this?"

AS: "I had been made aware a number of months ago that some of the individuals that were involved in my father's murder would have come to the attention of the gardai in relation to the IRA abuse allegations.

"But it was only in the last few days that I became aware that the man I am led to believe organised my father's murder is a suspected paedophile and that he had been moved by the IRA after his abuse came to light."

MC: "How do you feel about that?"

AS: "I am very shocked and very horrified that an individual who was known to be a child-abuser was moved south by individuals within the IRA. Essentially he was able to roam freely, possibly abusing other people, more than likely abusing other people, and that he was still involved in IRA activity, which led to him being involved in the shooting of my father.

"I'm aware that he was given protection by the IRA. This guy was there, the individual that organised my father's murder, he was there on the night, so the IRA have been protecting him for the last 30 years. And they're still protecting him."

MC: "One of the things Gerry Adams wrote in his blog on the abuse issue late last year, was that they couldn't produce any information in relation to sexual abuse by IRA members because there was 'no corporate way of verifying it.'"

AS: "It's quite peculiar in that Sinn Fein, and, by consequence, their representatives, seem to be able to get information when they want it in relation to IRA things. Gerry Adams was at some pains to point out to us the IRA has gone away, the IRA is no longer in existence, and there is no structure anymore so we can't get information. Yet he tasked an individual who described himself as having a very senior leadership role within the IRA to get information and that individual did get information.

"So from my perspective, it's now a nonsense to say that they can't do the same thing in relation to these abuse allegations. If there were IRA people involved in abuse, which clearly the evidence is that there were, the same individual who played that leadership role in getting information for myself and my family should now quickly be able to go and get the same information and help the victims of the abuse allegations."

MC: "Do you believe that Gerry Adams knew the identity of the man that you met alongside him in 2013?"

AS: "He did, he did. That man told me that Gerry Adams had asked him to carry out the investigation. Gerry Adams is now a public representative and is now telling us that he applies the principles of democracy, I am sure that Gerry Adams should go to the gardai, I would have expected it of him. I don't know whether the gardai have interviewed him or not in relation to it. I would be surprised if the gardai hadn't.

"Gerry Adams would probably say that he doesn't know, that he tasked this individual to find information out; but this individual was close to Gerry Adams, that was quite evident. And that individual should go to the gardai with whatever information he has too. I have no doubt that if anything happened, Gerry Adams knew about it. I've no doubt that Gerry Adams was in the IRA and would have made enquiries within his own movement when the chief prison officer in Portlaoise was shot.

"I'm sure that people at the higher end of the IRA would have known, and Gerry Adams was at a high end of the IRA at that time. So, I am quite sure he knew.

"We were quite thankful at the time for the information we were given. Obviously, we were told a lie about the operation not being sanctioned, but about 80pc of the information we got stacked up with what we had from other sources.

"I do think in the cold light of day, particularly in relation to the Good Friday Agreement, that the onus is on people like Gerry Adams and former members of the IRA to come forward if they have information. Now I know that's a bit unrealistic to expect that that's going to happen and that's why I have always advocated for a truth commission, where victims of unsolved crimes can actually get information in a way that's going to be helpful to them, because we are at a stage maybe 30, 40, 50 years later in some instances where we know some crimes are not going to be solved.,

"In my job [Austin is an assistant prison governor], I have worked with a lot of sex offenders and I know what these individuals are like.

"You can be guaranteed that he has not stopped, that is the nature of the beast. Sex offenders who prey on children keep preying on children, and the IRA or Sinn Fein, they need to go to the gardai and tell the gardai where this individual is.

"We have no information in relation to where this individual is, he's gone to ground. But I believe that the long arm of the republican movement is probably supporting this individual. I am sure he is being protected, and he is being helped, wherever he is. It's quite staggering that people can be moved around the country after abusing children and committing murder, and to me it is mind-boggling that some people who are at the higher echelons of Sinn Fein now, sitting in the parliamentary party, both north and south of the border, held senior positions within the IRA.

"This man committed murder, he abused children, and the IRA and, by consequence, certain senior members of Sinn Fein, now have questions to answer in relation to why individuals like this were allowed to roam the country with impunity."

MC: "What would you say to Sinn Fein now?"

AS: "Get your house in order. You cannot be considered as a democratic party, you cannot be considered as a viable alternative to the other political parties for government until such time as you address clearly the abuse allegations and 'out' these people.

"I would ask anybody who looks at Sinn Fein to scratch beneath the surface. Look at the individuals who are leading Sinn Fein, look at the individuals that they were connected with, and then ask the questions: What have they got to hide? Why can't they be straightforward and come out and give the information they have to the gardai and the PSNI? Why are they protecting individuals like the man who killed my father?

"To my mind, a republican is someone who cherishes all the children of the nation, as Padraig Pearse said in the proclamation of 1916, and the Sinn Fein party at the moment are not and never have been a republican organisation, because they do not cherish all of the children of the nation equally. Today there are children at risk both in Ireland, North and South, and across the world where IRA people have been spirited, and Sinn Fein cannot be considered in any way, shape or form as being suitable for government, north or south of the border, while they are protecting people who are putting people at risk.

"I actually think Gerry Adams doesn't grasp the reality of it, or doesn't grasp the gravity of it. I really think that he maybe doesn't know how people are feeling about this, he doesn't understand the harm that people within his organisation have caused to children and to young adults. I really get the impression that he just wishes that this would go away.

"I think that the people around him are cocooning him to a certain extent by defending him, and defending him in a cult-like way. It's like something out of North Korea. They defend the leader at all costs. The leader gets cocooned and he doesn't understand the gravity of what's going on, on the ground. I think that's what's going on here."

 

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss