Wednesday, 7 December 2016
Personal Explanation by Member
I wish to advise the House that, in accordance with Standing Order 46(1), I acceded to a request from Deputy Gerry Adams to make a personal explanation to the House. The Business Committee agreed earlier today that time would be made available.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Ceann Comhairle as ucht an deis seo a thabhairt dom an ráiteas seo a dhéanamh.
Let me begin once again by saying that the shooting of Brian Stack was wrong. It was a grievous loss for his family and should never have happened. In the absence of the two Governments agreeing to a process to deal with the past, I sought to try to assist the family of Brian Stack to gain a degree of acknowledgement and closure. I did so at their request. What has happened over the last year points up the challenges of this course of action and the urgent need for a proper legacy process to be established.
For the record, I will again set out the sequence of events and my efforts to assist the family of Brian Stack. Austin Stack approached me in 2013 seeking acknowledgment for what happened to his father. I met Austin on a number of occasions over the course of the following months, mostly on my own. Austin and his brother Oliver made it clear to me personally and said publicly that they were not looking for people to go to jail. They wanted acknowledgement and they wanted closure. There is a note of that initial meeting, and I am releasing that today. The computer stamp shows that this note was typed into the computer on 16 May, seven days after the first meeting with the family. Austin Stack speaks of his commitment to restorative justice processes. I believe him.
I told the Stack brothers that I could help only on the basis of confidentiality. This was the same basis on which I have tried to help other families. Both Austin and Oliver agreed to respect the confidential nature of the process we were going to try to put in place. Without that commitment, I could never have pursued the meeting they were seeking, which took place later that summer.
The brothers were given a statement at that meeting by a former IRA leader. That statement was made available publicly by the Stack family. The statement acknowledged that the IRA was responsible for their father’s death, that it regretted it took so long to clarify this for them, that the shooting of Brian Stack was not authorised by the IRA leadership, and that the person who gave the instruction was disciplined. The statement expressed sorrow for the pain and hurt the Stack family suffered.
Following the meeting, the family acknowledged that the process "has provided us with some answers that three separate Garda investigations failed to deliver. We would like to thank Deputy Adams for the role he has played in facilitating this outcome". Since then, the position of Austin Stack has changed. In 2013, Austin gave me the names of four people whom he believed might have information on the case. He told me that he had been given these names by journalistic and Garda sources. Austin denies giving me names. Why on earth would I say that I received the names from him if I did not?
In February of this year, Austin Stack also claimed that he gave the names to the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin. If Austin Stack was prepared to give names to Deputy Martin, why would he not have given them to me? I was, after all, the person he was asking to arrange a meeting.
At Austin’s request, I contacted those I could among the names he gave me. They denied having any information about the killing of Brian Stack. I told Austin Stack this.
During the election campaign earlier this year, the Fianna Fáil leader and others repeated a lot of what was said in 2013. It was obviously part of an election strategy against Sinn Féin. However, in addition, allegations were made that I was holding and withholding information from An Garda. It was in this context, and to remove any uncertainty or ambiguity, that I e-mailed the Garda Commissioner the names that Austin Stack had given me and which he said had come from Garda and journalistic sources. I have never at any time described those named as "suspects". I made it clear to the Garda Commissioner that I have no information on the death of Brian Stack. The e-mail was sent only after I had spoken to three of the four. There is a live Garda investigation. I am prepared to co-operate with this.
The position of the Fianna Fáil leader, who was a Minister in successive Fianna Fáil Governments during the peace process, and of the Taoiseach during the period in question and on this issue is hypocritical, inconsistent and disappointing. I have never sought publicity on these issues. Any public comments I have made have been in response to others - first, when Austin Stack publicly asked to meet me and during the processes we established in 2013, and second, when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil sought to exploit this issue as part of their election campaign of 2016.
Today I make this statement in the Dáil following an e-mail that I wrote to the Garda Commissioner being put inappropriately, in my opinion, into the public realm and then raised here in the Dáil twice by the Fianna Fáil leader. I say "inappropriately" because there is a live investigation into the murder of Brian Stack and we in this Chamber should be mindful not to say anything that might prejudice this or any future court proceedings. The Fianna Fáil leader and the Taoiseach seem to be unconcerned about this.
Deputy Micheál Martin says I named four people whom I say I understand to be suspects in the murder of Mr. Stack. Teachta Martin has misled the Dáil. I never made such a statement. I have never described those named as "suspects". He says that I said I took a note of the meeting between Austin and Oliver Stack and a former IRA leader. I never said this. I took no note of that meeting. He says I took Austin and Oliver Stack to that meeting in a blacked-out van. The Taoiseach even went so far as to say I drove the van. That is not true. I travelled with the Stack brothers in my own car to a pre-arranged place on the Border and then we were taken in a van to the meeting in the North, as had been pre-arranged.
The Fianna Fáil leader and the Taoiseach should correct the Dáil record on these matters.
After Fr. Alec Reid, Fr. Des Wilson, John Hume and I began our work to develop a peace process, successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments encouraged and facilitated meetings between Martin McGuinness and I and the IRA leadership. Are the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader now demanding that we should have named those we met? Do they believe that it would have helped the peace process, a process which I hope we all appreciate?
I recall a specific occasion when a meeting in St. Luke's with the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, was suspended to allow Martin McGuinness and I to meet the IRA. On other occasions, initiatives involving the Irish and British Governments, the IRA, the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin were constructed to advance the process. Meetings were adjourned to facilitate this. These conversations helped to secure historic cessations. Should those involved be named? None of this would have been possible without talking to the IRA. An Teachta Micheál Martin knows this.
Our efforts led in July 2005 to the IRA announcing an end to the armed campaign and engaging with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to put its arms beyond use. The process and progress could only have been secured on the basis of direct contact and confidentially. Is An Teachta Micheál Martin demanding that Martin McGuinness and I should name those we were meeting in the IRA leadership and who decided to put their arms beyond use? Is he demanding that the decommissioning body name those IRA members it met and who put those weapons beyond use? Is he demanding that Cyril Ramaphosa and Martti Ahtisaari name those in the IRA they engaged with to facilitate the arms being put beyond use? Should we now name all of those in the IRA who supported the peace process and took difficult, but courageous, decisions? Others and I also assisted the Smithwick commission. Should they be named?
One of the most difficult legacy issues that we have had to deal with is that of the disappeared, a grave injustice to those families. The Governments established the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains at my request and with Fr. Alec Reid's support. As a result of our efforts, 12 of the 16 victims have been recovered and work continues on seeking information on the remaining four. I have not given up on this. Martin McGuinness and I continue to meet regularly with the commission. The commission also meets former IRA people. Should they be named? An Teachta Micheál Martin knows all of this. He was a senior member of the Government that established the commission.
All of this progress was only possible on the basis of confidentially and trust. That is why no IRA people were named during any of these initiatives and why they should not be named today. It is an essential part of any conflict resolution process. Sinn Féin has worked consistently to resolve the issues of the past. As part of our commitment to this, I have met many families, like that of Brian Stack, and because I also have lost family members, I know how they feel and can understand their resentment towards republicans. However, if the Taoiseach and An Teachta Micheál Martin are interested in healing the legacy of the past for all families, including the Stacks, the Finucanes, the families of the Dublin-Monaghan bombs and hundreds more, they could begin by putting in place an international-based independent truth recovery process or make sure that the process that we set out in the Fresh Start agreement was working.
My generation of republican activists who lived through and survived the war have a responsibility to try to bring the families of victims of the war, irrespective of who they are or who was responsible for their hurt, to a better place. That is why I tried to do my best to help the Stack family in my engagement in 2013.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. 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-----
Will you resume your seat? That is not a point of order. The House, the Dáil Business Committee and I have agreed that Deputy Adams could make a personal explanation in accordance with Standing Order 46(1). There is no provision for any response or any question in respect of a statement made in such circumstances.