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Vincent Browne: Cynical opportunism over Stack case

Challenging Gerry Adams on confidentiality is more fake indignation by media

Austin Stack, whose father Brian was killed by the Provisional IRA in 1983, said last week he was "quite confident" he knew the identity of the "individual" to whom Gerry Adams introduced him three years ago and who had information about the murder. He said he had informed the Garda who this person was.

He went on in an RTÉ Prime Time interview to say he expected Adams would be "man enough" to go to the Garda station in Dundalk and tell gardaí the same information, that is who this "individual" was.

Stack acknowledged in that interview that he entered into a confidentiality agreement with Adams – a confidentiality agreement that must have involved confidentiality about the assistance Adams was giving him and about the meeting with the “individual” and what transpired at that meeting.

It is Adams’s refusal to give the gardaí information that, according to Stack, they already know that has now become the subject of the latest episode of fake indignation in the media. Even if the gardaí did not know already who this “individual” was, the indignation would still be fake for there is clearly a public interest in information communicated in such circumstances remaining confidential.


There is now an acceptance by the courts that some circumstances justify confidentiality that even the courts themselves will not intrude upon, even though there is no legislative basis for this. For instance, courts will not require Catholic priests to disclose what was communicated to them in a confessional setting or require lawyers to disclose what was communicated to them by their clients.

This is done in acknowledgment of the reality that there is a public interest in usually protecting such confidences, for were such confidences to be breached – except in extraordinary circumstances – then the public welfare could be compromised.

This acknowledgment of a public interest in protecting confidences is contained in two pieces of legislation or proposed legislation agreed by the Irish and British governments and by the parties in Northern Ireland.

Worst atrocities

One of these pieces of legislation relates to a commission established by the governments to inquire into the location of the remains of the “Disappeared”, the Criminal Justice (Location of Victims’ Remains) Act 1999.

This commission has assisted in the location of many of the bodies of the “Disappeared” including that of Jean McConville, the victim of one of the worst atrocities carried out by the IRA. Section 6 of that Act states that “information provided to the commission in relation to the process [of locating the remains of the ‘Disappeared’] shall not be disclosed to any person except for the purpose of facilitating the location of the remains”.

The Stormont House Agreement negotiated two years ago with the involvement of Charlie Flanagan, Theresa Villiers, David Cameron and Enda Kenny, and published on December 23rd, 2014, provided for an independent commission on information retrieval (ICIR) "to seek and privately receive information about the [Troubles-related] deaths of their next of kin". It states: "The ICIR will not disclose the identities of people who provide information."

Precisely similar considerations apply in the case of Adams, the “individual” and the Stack family, although of course, as yet, there is no legislative basis for this as there is not in the cases of priests, lawyers, doctors, journalists and others.

Adams was asked by the Stack family to assist in obtaining information on whether their father was murdered by the IRA and the circumstances in which this occurred. He agreed to assist, provided the confidentiality of the process and what was communicated was respected.

The Stack family agreed to this, as they have acknowledged. This resulted in the Stack family being given some information related to their father’s murder and they expressed gratitude for the assistance Adams provided.

Adams was providing a public service by his assistance, a service he may have provided previously and may do again, unless the recent contrived furore deters others from taking part in a process that may turn out not to be confidential at all.

Inadvertently, the Stack family have done damage to that process now, which could lead to other families being denied similar information about the murder of their loved ones, because of their breach of confidentiality and the controversy surrounding this.

But were Adams also to breach confidentiality, then other families could forget it. They would get no such assistance. The absurdity of this is all the greater, since, according to Stack he has already informed the gardaí who this “individual” is.

Opportunistic gain

There is a virulent cynical opportunism surrounding all this. First by Independent News & Media and then by

Fianna Fáil


Fine Gael

, cynical by their indifference to the damage to the process that could help other families, all for opportunistic gain. In the case of Independent News & Media this gain is through hoped-for sales and the strutting rights of journalists who think they are doing some public service and in the case of political parties through some electoral advantage.

The most significant political/societal achievement on the island of Ireland since 1922 was the peace agreement of 1998 and its subsequent embellishments.

More than anybody else Adams was crucial to those agreements; they simply would not have happened when they did were it not because of him.

Yes, as the leading figure in the IRA from 1978 onwards, he had a part in serial gruesome atrocities. These probably would have happened had he not been there. But the peace – however imperfect and however compromised in the years immediately following 1998 – we now enjoy would not have happened in 1998 were it not for him. Others had important roles, but none as crucial.

Of course, Adams brings with him much of the chilling residue of the conflict. However, there is now little recognition of the achievement of peace for which he was the principal architect and when he attempts further public service for which he could not possibly expect any political or personal gain because of the confidentiality he wanted to surround all this, he is vilified.