Wednesday 23 January 2019

Murder, he said, with not a bother on him

A lightweight politician played political games with a serious matter, and his party thinks this is fine, writes Gene Kerrigan

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Last week, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell smeared two Sinn Fein TDs, under Dail privilege. He did this by associating them with murder.

Although he has come in for some criticism for doing this, his party has stood by him. Chief Whip Regina Doherty publicly accepted his bizarre explanation for doing what he did.

Mr Farrell's actions are on the public record and can be examined in some detail. They are instructive.

Although I remember the murder of Brian Stack in 1983, I have to admit ignorance of the detail of the investigation over the ensuing 33 years. Oddly enough, politicians seem to believe that almost everyone in the country is up to speed on the operational details of a decades-old garda investigation.

It's now being claimed that the dogs in the street knew the names of TDs Dessie Ellis and Martin Ferris as two of four people who were questioned by gardai about the shooting of Mr Stack.

Living a sheltered life, I didn't know that. I suspect most people in the country didn't know that. I knew that both men served time in prison for IRA activities in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sheltered my life may be, but this I do know from covering court cases: when a murder is committed, gardai question a lot more than four people. In a proper investigation - and this seems to have been one - they quite rightly cast the net wide and interview or investigate every person who might know something relevant, or who might know someone who might know something relevant.

For example, during the investigation of Veronica Guerin's murder, gardai came to my home and questioned me about meeting a gangster in a pub in Meath. I'd never heard of the man, much less met him - but the gardai were right to explore every possibility.

Last Wednesday, after Gerry Adams finished making a personal statement to the Dail on the Stack murder, Alan Farrell stood up. "I am sorry to interrupt," he said, according to the official Dail record, "but I wish to raise a point of order."

"There is no point of order at this point," the Ceann Comhairle said.

Mr Farrell was intentionally misleading the Dail, in claiming that he wished to make a point of order. He has been in the Dail since 2011 and was a councillor for seven years before that. He knows what a point of order is, and what it's not.

A point of order is a claim that the rules of procedure have been broken; it alerts the Ceann Comhairle to that error.

Phoney points of order happen all the time, but usually they happen because a TD wants to sneak in a comment on some issue of the day.

In this case, Mr Farrell was misleading the Ceann Comhairle in order to associate two TDs with murder.

When the Ceann Comhairle said there was no point of order, Mr Farrell insisted - falsely - that the Ceann Comhairle was risking unjustly stopping him raising a genuine point of order.

"The Ceann Comhairle has not heard what I have to say," he said.

At this point, the Ceann Comhairle, Sean O Fearghail, seems to have decided there was a danger he would make an unfair ruling. Rather than risk that, he decided to allow for the possibility that Mr Farrell did have a genuine point of order.

And he ruled that Mr Farrell might speak, "very briefly".

"I thank the Ceann Comhairle," Mr Farrell said, and then abandoned all pretence of making a point of order.

"It is entirely appropriate, given the fact that Deputy Adams has been afforded the opportunity to explain to the House his involvement and/or discussions with individuals relating to this case, that the two other individuals who are Members of this House who he himself has named - "

"No," said the Ceann Comhairle, apparently realising what was about to happen.

At which point, the official record shows, Fianna Fail TD Fiona O'Loughlin joined in.

"Three," she said, correcting Mr Farrell. She didn't name the third member of the Dail allegedly interviewed by the police, she just seemed to claim there was a third.

Mr Farrell continued, "and whose names are already in the public domain..."

This was untrue. The names of Ellis and Ferris were not at that stage in the public domain, in any sense of that term, in connection with the Stack murder.

Mr Farrell now named them: "Deputies Ellis and Ferris..."

He then added: "Be given an opportunity to address this House".

Now, we all know Sinn Fein has a history. And, as some of us have said before, the members of the party are doomed to drag that history behind them, like a corpse, until a generation arrives for whom that history is remote.

Fianna Fail had to do likewise: born of an armed group that rejected the result of a vote on the Treaty, which fought a war in a failed effort to reverse the effects of the people's vote.

Fine Gael, too: born of three political entities, one of them a fascist group, complete with Hitler salutes and paramilitary rituals.

FF is not today a violent body; FG is not a fascist party.

In my ignorance, when I heard on the radio that Mr Farrell linked Ellis and Ferris to the murder of Brian Stack, I took his claim at face value. I mentally linked both men with the act of going up behind a man leaving a sports event and pointing a gun at him, pulling the trigger, with consequences that were eventually fatal.

I don't have a problem with what some see as "abusing Dail privilege". It may, on occasion, be necessary to use Dail privilege to enlighten people with information that might otherwise be forever hidden.

I hadn't followed the Stack case and didn't know if this was one of those instances, but, listening to my radio, I accepted that Mr Farrell acted in good conscience.

The Dail record suggests otherwise.

First, Dessie Ellis was arrested in Buffalo, New York, in February 1983; he was extradited to Ireland on IRA charges and sentenced to 10 years in April 1983. Brian Stack was shot in March 1983. Ellis, therefore, had a watertight alibi. Anyone who did two minutes' research knew this - one assumes Mr Farrell knew this.

Martin Ferris was not in jail at the time and therefore cannot prove his innocence.

I wasn't in the Dail on Wednesday. Miriam Lord of the Irish Times was. She wrote that "deputies on all sides looked in disbelief at the smirking Farrell".

Ellis was "seething". Ferris "was incandescent with rage", Lord wrote, but "Farrell, smiling serenely, said nothing."

Dail "business slowly resumed"; Ferris "was still shaking as he left the chamber ... There wasn't a bother on Alan Farrell".

On Friday, on RTE's News at One, Regina Doherty said of Mr Farrell: "Given the chatter that was going on in Leinster House ... he was well motivated in trying to give them [Ellis and Ferris] the same opportunity, or a similar opportunity - that Gerry Adams had been accorded ... to rule themselves out, which they quite clearly did, in very vocal terms."

This echoed Mr Farrell's claim to be doing Ellis and Ferris a favour, by associating them with murder, so that they could deny it, in the face of Dail "chatter".

Mr Farrell appears to be a lightweight, seeking a cheap way to make a name for himself, playing the game of Troll the Shiners.

It isn't surprising that he would excuse his conduct with such a transparently nonsensical excuse.

For a governing party to casually join him in that is to cross a very serious parliamentary line.

Sunday Independent

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