The Michael Reade Show
Michael Reade (MR) speaks to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams (GA) via telephone from Havana, Cuba about Fidel Castro and the controversy caused by an email he sent to the Garda Commissioner concerning Portlaoise Prison Officer Brian Stack’s death. (begins time stamp ~15:16)
MR: We’ll go to Havana now where the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is attending the funeral of Fidel Castro.
GA: Well I’ve been in Cuba a number of times and you know as a young man, I suppose no more than yourself, I was caught up in my imagination with the events here away back in the ’60’s when the people of Cuba fought for and got their freedom. And then as the struggle there developed – how they sought to tackle poverty, illiteracy and other social issues. So, I know there are flaws here. I actually – when I met with Fidel some time ago I raised issues of human rights and civil liberties and religious liberties and political prisoners and so on. So you know, I do the same with US presidents when I have the opportunity to talk to them and Sinn Féin’s position is very consistent in this regard. So I’m very honoured to be here to represent Sinn Féin. I won’t be here for all of the funeral ceremonies. The international dimension of this was last night and I’m sure that the good people of Louth and Meath East will be pleased that they at least were represented here. I think it was remiss of the government not to send a member of the government; I understand the ambassador from this region was here but Fidel, I think, was a good friend of Ireland. He stood by the hunger strikers of 1981, the women in Armagh, the men who died in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and he spoke out, more so than any other Irish Taoiseach, and he also advocated for an end to partition and for the island to be united and for us to be left to shape out our own affairs.
He was an internationalist. They sent thousands of medical doctors and nurses and health workers to all parts of the world. The health system here is free. They have been subject to a cruel blockade for over fifty years but despite that they’ve kept going. Education is par excellence – it’s free also. And the population here are hugely educated and again, they have went into Latin America and Africa. And you wouldn’t have the issues that we have in Our Lady of Lourdes, at any of the hospitals here, and I’ve visited the hospitals here and structurally they’re dilapidated affairs because of the blockade – you know, all sorts of normal supplies are denied the people here but the health service itself has been very – and actually when I was MP for West Belfast we sent at least one young person suffering from cancer to Cuba to be treated. So they’re very open, very generous, very welcoming of visitors and prepared to reach out and to help other people in need.
MR: Indeed. As I understand it the Cuban healthcare system is the envy of the world or should be the envy of the world because with relatively no funding they have a model for all of us to aspire to based on the logic of prevention is better than cure and primary care centres practically on every street corner in the country. But what are people saying to you about Castro because, as I said, he’s remembered in many different ways in many different places but in Havana is he remembered as a despot, a dictator or as a social revolutionary?
GA: Well I’ll tell you what it’s like, Michael, it’s like some very elderly member of your family who’s held in affection dies – and even though you may be expecting the death there’s still a sense of sadness. Now, I’ve been here a few times and when I was at the event last night and the locals, they estimate about a million people turned out at the event last night – so even those who might disagree with Fidel respect him but the most of them, and it was very obvious last night as they showed a brief video run-through from 1959, when they stood against the old dictatorship, you know, a ragged grouping of revolutionaries, to the point through all the twists and turns through the big crises under the Kennedy administration in the ’60’s with Khrushchev right through – you know they sent an expeditionary force to Namibia, which was under threat by the racist apartheid regime of South Africa, they stood by people there. But I suppose the sense of pride that you know – people are flown in here, free of charge by the Cuban authorities – this is a poor country – free of charge to get cataract operations from Latin America. There are still teachers, doctors, nurses freely being sent to poor places in Latin America and also in Africa. I mean they would send people to us if they would be welcomed by those who run and are making a mess of our own health services. So there’s a great sense of pride. Also, no more than ourselves – like we’re a small island with a powerful neighbor who hasn’t treated us well – they’re a small island with a powerful neighbor which hasn’t treated them well and I welcome very much the rapprochement that President Obama and Raul Castro have ushered in and I hope that continues on to the new president. Obviously, our big focus is on our own cause when we’re here but it’s what’s recollecting also that Raul Castro played a key facilitating role in the Colombian peace process and Sinn Féin were first and foremost there. I spoke with the negotiators here last year. Martin McGuinness has met with the president of Colombia on a number of times. We’ve sent a range of people from Martina Anderson, Jennifer McCann, Gerry Kelly and others into Colombia to advise the FARC and to advise the Colombian government. So Cuba, in terms of peace-making in its own region, has been showing great leadership.
MR: Gerry Adams speaking to me from Havana where he’s attending the funeral of Fidel Castro. Now that’s just part of a much longer conversation that I had with the Sinn Féin president. I did spend some time talking to him about the controversy that’s been raging here at home about an email that he sent to the Garda Commissioner in relation to the shooting of Portlaoise Prison Officer Brian Stack in 1983 outside of the National Stadium on the South Circular Road in Dublin and how in that correspondence to the Garda Commissioner he named four people who he said may have information in relation to the shooting and to the subsequent death eighteen months later of Mr. Stack and how it has been claimed by Gerry Adams that those names were given to him by Brian Stack’s son, Austin Stack, and how Austin Stack is contradicting that claim and saying he never gave any names to Gerry Adams. We’ll hear the response to all of that in the second hour of the programme. (pauses time stamp ~ 23:38) (resumes time stamp ~ 42:35)
MR: On Monday the Irish Independent reported that Gerry Adams wrote to the Garda Commissioner naming four individuals who he said may have information about the killing of Brian Stack in 1983. Now this has dominated the political agenda since taking most of the time in the Dáil during leaders’ questions on Tuesday and many people asking for answers to questions predominantly relating to how Gerry Adams got these names. Gerry Adams, as you heard earlier in the programme, is in Cuba attending the funeral of Fidel Castro but he has said that he received these names from the son of the Portlaoise Prison officer, Austin Stack. Austin Stack says he didn’t give any names to Gerry Adams.
GA: I’m playing catch-up on some of this. I haven’t seen any of the news reports at first-hand. I’m, as you know, in Havana at the moment for Fidel Castro’s funeral. But from what I have picked up I have to say I’m very disappointed. I went out to try and help the Stack Family at the time. They did suffer a grievous injustice. I did my best and they thanked me for my endeavours at the time. In the course of my discussions – and I met Austin Stack quite a few times, both on his own and with his brother, Oliver – and in the course of those discussions he told me that he had been given some names of people who may be able to help, who may have been involved. He had no independent information to support this and he said he would like to meet with these people. So in the course of my endeavours to help the family I contacted, I couldn’t contact all of the people, but I contacted three of them and they denied having anything to do with the shooting of Brian Stack, Austin’s father, and they declined to speak to him at that time. Now you will recall that it was a matter, this was during the election campaign, a matter of some public controversy at that time.
Also in the course of all of that a former senior IRA Volunteer who had carried out an investigation into all of this met with the Stack brothers, apologised for the shooting of their father, said it had not been authorised by the IRA leadership at that time. I explained how difficult it was to get all of this necessary information because by that stage the IRA had left the field and was no longer intact and people had gone their own ways and some people had died and so on and so forth but he acknowledged that a senior IRA person had authorised the shooting, apologised for that and said that that person had been subsequently disciplined and he put on record his regrets and all of that became a matter of public news in and around the time. Now, I also, in the course of – now I’m not too sure of the sequence – I don’t have my notes with me – sent the names which Austin Stack had given me to the Garda Commissioner. I don’t know how that email has got into the public media, and indeed, are there any questions being asked about that at this time? I understand that Micheál Martin, in his usual opportunistic way, made some remarks about this in the Dáil. So that’s that, at this distance, a very brief account of what occurred. It is a matter of regret for me that this unfortunate man was shot and his family have suffered as they have and I said that then and I’m saying it again now. It’s also a matter of disappointment that these matters have taken the twist that they have taken.
MR: But you can confirm to us that you did write by email to the Garda Commissioner naming four individuals who may have information that may help with the investigation into the murder of Brian Stack?
GA: Yes. I felt I was obliged to give this information – I have no way of verifying it and I certainly have no additional or other information but I thought…
MR: …And can you tell us, Mr. Adams, can you tell us when those names were first made known to you?
GA: In the course of discussions with Austin Stack, and I’m not sure exactly the sequence or the time frame, and as I said I don’t have me notes with me now, but in the course of those discussions – now in fairness to Austin Stack he was looking to meet with these folks and he wasn’t making any – neither could he – make any definitive or claims other than that he had been told by Garda sources and by some journalists that these people may be able to help with his inquiries.
MR: Okay, but tell us: You wrote to the Garda Commissioner in February, just before the election, and there are suggestions that you had this information in 2013.
GA: No, I didn’t have any information at all on this particular case until I met with the Stack brothers and then subsequently, and it was some time afterwards – this took quite a long time to get any sort of an explanation from Republican sources, so my first information – this was from the Stack Family themselves – and then my second, more clear position, when I facilitated the meeting between the Stack brothers and the person who had previously been in a senior position in the IRA.
MR: Micheál Martin wanted to know why you would have felt confident to pass on the names of suspects in the case. Is he correct? Were these people suspects? Or are they suspects?
GA: Well I don’t know. Why wouldn’t I pass the names on? It seems to me quite ridiculous if I hadn’t had pass the names on then Micheál Martin would have something to crib about. The fact is it isn’t for me to judge. These people clearly have their rights and have, as I’ve said, denied that (inaudible) denied any involvement in this and for that reason I have no independent reason to doubt what they are saying so I don’t know where Micheál Martin is coming from except that this is another opportunity for him to have a go at Sinn Féin and me in particular. As I said, if I hadn’t passed the information onto the Garda then he would have something to complain about.
MR: Because two of them are said to be sitting TDs and the question is: Were election candidates who were also murder suspects permissible as candidates in the eyes of the Sinn Féin leadership?
GA: Well we don’t know if they are murder suspects at all, at all. What we do know is that Austin Stack wanted to talk to some of those people to see if they could help – that was his request to me. If you go back to, and again I’m saying this from recollection without notes, but if you go back to the first engagement with Austin Stack what he wanted was closure, as much information as possible and that there had been various rumours about who had been responsible from gangsters, criminal elements, some talk about INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) elements and also some talk that the IRA had been involved and the family didn’t know so at least they got the truth of the matter which was: Yes. Republicans shot their father. No. It was not authorised by the IRA leadership at that time but yes, a senior IRA person had taken that decision and that he was disciplined.
MR: You said, Mr. Adams, that you spoke to three of the four people you named in this email. The Irish Independent says two of them are TDs, they’ve seen the email and it says that one of the TDs claims that you didn’t consult with him before sending that email. Is that correct?
GA: No, that’s not correct.
MR: Can you tell us if the TDs who you named in that email were members of the IRA at any stage?
GA: Well first of all I’m not making any comment at all on the names of the people involved. That’s not my business to point the finger…(crosstalk) (inaudible)
MR: …But there’s a lot of speculation as to who was involved since this news broke and, obviously, that would shorten the list.
GA: Well, that may be but that’s up to the Gardaí. That’s not up to me, or Micheál Martin for that matter, or anyone else. That’s up to the Gardaí
MR: Did you consult with anybody else before sending the email?
GA: I don’t understand the question.
MR: Did anybody else see the email or was anybody else aware of the contents of the email before you wrote to the Garda Commissioner?
GA: It was sent from my office so I presume whoever typed it may have, well obviously, knew what was in it but you know – those whose names I was passing onto the Gardaí were notified of that – those I had contact with. Remember, I didn’t have contact with all those people.
MR: Have you any suspicion as to how this email ended up in the sight of the Irish Independent?
GA: Michael, I work quite closely with An Garda Siochána. I have passed information on to them over the years about criminal activity along the border. I have given them the names of those who have been suspected of being involved. I’ve given them other information – that’s my duty as both a citizen and as a public servant. I’ve had to make formal complaints because some of that information at different times was leaked, in my view quite maliciously, to sections of the media who would be very hostile to the Sinn Féin endeavour. I continue to work with the Garda, particularly in Dundalk and in North Louth, I have a number of issues that I have brought to their attention about other cases which I’ve also asked G-Soc to inquire into so – that’s my responsibility, that’s my duty, that’s my obligation and I will continue as best I can to do that.
MR: Will you ask for this to be investigated? I mean it seems quite plausible to think that the Commissioner or somebody working for the Commissioner leaked this to the media.
GA: Well, I wouldn’t think the Commissioner did but look – there are difficulties here as there are in different parts of Ireland with internet and other media -so I’m playing very much catch-up. I haven’t seen any of the items that you have talked about, any of the news items or the other pieces of (inaudible). I’m reliant upon just verbal briefings from my own office and while I’m sure that’s accurate I will wait until I get back. But it is a matter of concern that an email which was sent by me should end up with a section of the media. There is an ongoing investigation and at the very, very least one would suppose that that could be prejudiced by the type of reckless public commentary there has been on this by some opponents of Sinn Féin.
MR: Undoubtedly lots of people will be listening to your comments here to us today, Gerry Adams, including Austin Stack, who said he didn’t give you these names. You say he did. Can you explain the contradictory statements?
GA: No, I can’t. I have a very clear recollection. As I’ve said I’m disappointed that Austin is taking up the position that he has taken up but I’m very, very clear in my recollection of all of this.
MR: Sinn Féin TD for Louth, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, speaking to me from Havana yesterday afternoon. (ends time stamp ~ 57:20)