Miriam Lord: Farrell enjoys the privilege of baiting Ellis and Ferris
Fine Gael backbencher unperturbed by angry reaction from Sinn Féin TDs
The rumpus was dying down now but the atmosphere in the chamber remained highly charged.
Farrell was smiling. He seemed very pleased with himself and his handiwork, chuckling as he made some comments to the TDs next to him.
Gerry Adams had just concluded a personal statement to the House on his recent involvement with the family of a prison officer murdered by the IRA in 1983, lacing his account with numerous references to the peace process and the heroic personal part he played it.
Or rather “myself and John Hume”.
He spoke on behalf of his “generation of republican activists who lived through and survived the war”.
In the public gallery, the two sons of the murdered Brian Stack looked straight at the Sinn Féin leader as he spoke. Their father was shot in Portlaoise – a place not noted as a warzone. They took notes, sometimes shaking their heads, sometimes smiling ruefully.
“Do you think this will help the peace process?” Adams asked at one point, as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail TDs rolled their eyes.
In accordance with Dáil convention, there would be no questions or speeches from other TDs. Business would revert back to a discussion on pensions.
But Alan Farrell didn’t want it to stop there. So the deputy for Dublin Fingal tossed in the equivalent of a grenade with the deliberate intention of provoking a reaction from Sinn Féin. You could see that by the expression on his face the moment he insisted upon making a point of order.
He certainly got what he wanted.
“I think it entirely appropriate, given Deputy Adams has been afforded the opportunity to explain to the House his involvement and or his discussions with individuals relating to this case, that the two other individuals who are members of this House, who he himself has named . . .”
“No!” shouted the Ceann Comhairle.
“ . . . in the public domain . . .”
“That’s not a point of order!”
But Farrell continued, ignoring the protests from the chair, raising his voice, speaking slowly so he could be heard by all.
“That deputies Ellis and Ferris should be given the opportunity to address this House.”
Under privilege, the TD was identifying the Sinn Féin TDs as two of four people who might have information relating to the Stack murder and whose names were sent by Adams in an email to the Garda Commissioner earlier this year.
As deputies on all sides looked in disbelief at the smirking Farrell, Dessie Ellis jumped to his feet. He was seething.
“I’m not going to have people put my name out on something I have nothing to do with,” he bellowed. And he told Farrell, who is a solicitor: “I was actually in jail for the period in Portlaoise and before that I was in America.”
While he was shouting, the Ceann Comhairle was attempting to calm the situation and Martin Ferris was angrily roaring “I will not shut up!”
He was incandescent with rage, saying he had spoken to the gardaí at their request and he had nothing to answer for.
Ellis, meanwhile, was dancing on the spot. He urged Farrell to repeat what he just said outside the House. “I challenge you. DO IT! Come outside – if you had any guts.”
Farrell, smiling serenely, said nothing.
Business slowly resumed.
“You’re a disgrace!” roared Ferris, trying to gather up his pens and papers with trembling hands. Absolutely livid. He was still shaking as he left the chamber.
There wasn’t a bother on Alan Farrell.
While Government and many Opposition TDs were taken aback by the TD’s use of privilege in this manner, they were quick to point out that Sinn Féin made no apologies after Mary Lou McDonald rode a coach and four through the rulebook when she named people who allegedly held illegal offshore Ansbacher accounts, with no evidence to back up her declaration.
An Oireachtas committee subsequently found she had abused Dáil privilege.
The poisonous conclusion to Adams’s statement continued outside the chamber.
When they were leaving, the Stack brothers bumped into the Sinn Féin leader in a corridor. Adams tried to shake their hands. “I told him he was a liar,” said older brother Austin, adding that Adams replied: “Please stop, please stop.”
All Sinn Féin’s TDs and most of their senators were in the Dáil chamber to support their sainted leader. Mary Lou McDonald and Eoin Ó Broin were the only ones missing.
From their spot in the gallery, Austin and Oliver watched them intently.
“There were 20 people sitting behind Gerry Adams today and each and everyone of them should hang their heads in shame,” said Austin afterwards. He repeated that the Sinn Féin leader knows the identity of the man who told them that the people behind their father’s murder had been “disciplined” by the republican movement. Gerry Adams brought them to see him; they travelled in a van with blacked-out windows.
“He is quite clearly refusing to give the name of a murder suspect to the gardaí. It’s quite disgraceful.”
But Adams told the Dáil that confidentiality and trust is “an essential part of any conflict resolution process”.
You might email a Garda Commissioner to look good at election time, but you can’t be snitching on real people either.