Noel Whelan: Should we believe Gerry Adams or Brian Stack’s son?

The precedents that illustrate the Sinn Féin leader’s loose relationship with the truth are stacked high and can only damage his credibility in a conflict of testimony

Austin Stack (left) and Oliver Stack, sons of prison officer Brian Stack, in Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Amidst all the charges and counter-charges about the killing of Brian Stack that have surfaced in recent times, two central truths now stand unchallenged.

The first is that the IRA horrifically killed Brian Stack because he was a prison officer working in the service of this Republic. This is a reality which highlights for those too young to remember the Troubles, and for those inclined to forget, that the IRA were ruthless killers. They were prepared to eliminate anyone: agents of the British State, civilians, and members of the uniformed forces of this State.

The second unchallenged truth is that the IRA cruelly denied involvement in Brian Stack’s murder for 30 years.

On August 7th, 2013, when Gerry Adams brought Brian Stack's sons Austin and Oliver to a meeting with a leading IRA figure, they were handed a statement which acknowledged that the IRA had killed their father. The statement went on to say: "This action was not authorised by the IRA leadership and for this reason the IRA denied any involvement. 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."


The notion that IRA volunteers could be authorised to kill a senior prison officer on a busy Dublin street on the word of a middle-ranking IRA leader and that even after the shooting it took the IRA Army Council several years to find out that some of their own gunmen had been involved is fanciful.


If this pattern of initial IRA denials, followed by suggestions of unauthorised activity by some rogue IRA element, sounds familiar, it is because this has been how the IRA has previously sought to spin its involvement in certain operations which have proved politically sensitive for it within its own community and in the Republic.

Denial was its approach when Jean McConville disappeared, and it remained the organisation's approach for many decades. In August 2001, senior Sinn Féin politicians denied that the Colombia Three had anything to do with Sinn Féin when they were found working with Farc in Columbia, only to admit connections with some of them several months latter.

In June 1996, the IRA and senior Sinn Féin politicians vehemently denied police suggestions that the IRA had killed Garda Jerry McCabe. They later admitted that the IRA was involved, and Sinn Féin officially campaigned for their early release. Killing and disappearing a Catholic mother of 10, cavorting with narco-terrorists in Latin America and gunning down a Limerick detective was difficult to square with the suggestion that the IRA were motivated solely by their desire to fight for Irish freedom.

In the same way that it blackened Jean McConville's name by spreading false rumours when she disappeared, Sinn Féin has systematically blackened Brian Stack's name, most notably in a biography of Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris published in 2006.

At that the heart of this week's row is a conflict of testimony between Gerry Adams and Austin Stack. Adams says that Austin Stack gave him the names of people who might have information about the killing of Brian Stack. Adams says these are the four names he later gave to the Garda Síochána. Austin Stack, however, says that he did not give Adams any such names. The conflict matters, because if Austin Stack didn't give Adams the names, this suggests that Adams knows of persons who may be associated with Brian Stack's murder from sources other than Austin and that Adams may therefore have more relevant information to give to the ongoing Garda investigation.

Competing claims

In weighing up any conflict of evidence, one must assess the general credibility of those making the competing claims.

Gerry Adams’s credibility is shot to pieces. The precedents that illustrate his loose relationship with the truth are stacked very high. His various contradictory statements about McConville, McCabe and Colombia Three are just some examples of how he has been caught dissembling on politically sensitive events.

Adams’s denials about how the IRA covered up the abuse of Maíria Cahill is another case in point. His refusal to confirm that he was ever a member of the IRA further undermines him. Anyone who, notwithstanding these examples, still believes that Adams’s word can be trusted should study the transcript of his evidence in his brother’s first trial for sexual abuse. The transcript is available online and is riddled with inconsistencies, to the extent that he was not called as a witness in the retrial.

On the other side of the scale we have the word of Austin Stack, a man who, like his father before him, has given a life’s service to the State and is now a senior prison officer. He is a son motivated by his family’s need to find answers about his father’s death.

Given their respective motives and track records, the choice on who to believe in this recent controversy is a no-brainer.