Legacy scandal: ‘The principle thou shalt not upset the terrorists dictates our approach to the past,’ says Austin Stack

Brian Stack, who was shot by the IRA in 1983 and left paralysed and brain damaged, dying 18 months later
Brian Stack, who was shot by the IRA in 1983 and left paralysed and brain damaged, dying 18 months later

In the latest essay in our series, AUSTIN STACK says the IRA shot his prison officer father because he thwarted their efforts to escape:

The Legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles can be summed up in one sentence: “thou shalt not upset the terrorists or their political apologists”.

News Letter series for the late summer and autumn of 2018

News Letter series for the late summer and autumn of 2018

All the institutions, agreements and current Troubles narratives can be traced back to that one simple sentence.

My Dad was the chief prison officer in Portlaoise Prison in 1983.

He was a person who was dedicated to his job and as the chief officer he was responsible for security in the prison.

Portlaoise at the time housed some of the most notorious terrorists in Europe and my dad was quite successful in thwarting their efforts to escape.

Austin Stack, who like his late father, is a prison officer

Austin Stack, who like his late father, is a prison officer

In response the IRA shot him from behind in a cowardly attack as he walked back to his car following the National Boxing Championships in Dublin.

He was left paralysed from the neck down and severely brain damaged, dying from his injuries eighteen months later.

The governments, Victims and Survivors Service, politicians, academics and media have all bought into the discourse and narrative that the people who carried out this heinous attack on my Dad were somehow victims themselves and therefore should be accorded a similar status to the loving family and community man that they took from us.

Terms like conflict and war have been allowed to seep into common use when describing murders on innocent and unarmed civilians.

For the record my Dad was not involved in any war or conflict, he didn’t own a gun, never fired a gun and never even held a gun.

Attempting to give parity of esteem to those individuals from the Sinn Fein/IRA movement who ordered and carried out my Dad’s murder is in my view shameful and one that will fuel inter-generational harm and hurt to the victims.

The problematic issues in relation to the legacy of the Troubles can in my view be traced back to the initial decision to allow mass prison releases.

This gave a defeated Sinn Fein/IRA a propaganda tool and they sold it as a victory to the world.

Alongside this they dangled the constant threat that they could send these hardened terrorists back to evil ways if they didn’t get what they wanted.

Nobody challenged this when it was presented to the world as the ‘Peace Process’ and the ongoing legacy of this is the constant failure of Sinn Fein/IRA to take responsibility for their actions and in fact they will take any opportunity afforded to them to gleefully re-victimise and re-traumatise those that they have harmed.

In my Dad’s case the Sinn Fein/IRA denied his murder for 30 years refusing to take responsibility for their actions as they felt they had cover from the ‘Peace Process’ and the ‘let’s all move on’ discourse which they tend to use.

When I eventually forced them to admit my Dad’s murder they again did so in a way that they felt got them off the hook, they claimed that while a senior commander had ordered the attack that it wasn’t sanctioned by the army council, I know it was and I know the senior Sinn Fein politician who authorised it.

Sinn Fein politicians have continued to disrespect my Dad’s memory and have tried to recreate an alternative narrative in relation to his murder.

This was very evident when Senator Maire Devine retweeted a tweet that labelled me the “son of a sadistic prison officer”, then when I challenged her, she said that I was being “sensitive”.

While in the last few days Sinn Fein presidential candidate, Liadh Ní Riada, refused to state that my Dad’s murder was an act of terrorism.

These issues would go unchallenged in the “don’t upset the terrorist” world that we live in, if I did not continue to question this constant gloating of murder.

To add insult to injury the treatment of victims by both governments is nothing short of shameful.

From an Irish perspective I have been told by senior officials that our government will not recognise victims groups similar to those in Northern Ireland therefore discriminating against us. This is in direct conflict with their obligations in the Stormont House Agreement which states that victims will “have access to quality services ... the needs of victims who do not live in Northern Ireland should be recognised”.

The Stormont House Agreement has zero value or creditability for victims and its sole purpose appears to be an attempt to white wash the evil deeds of the terrorists.

While it was under negotiation I told the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister that the proposed structures would not work unless there was some victim input into the structures and over sight bodies.

This is the only way that we can insure its ongoing credibility.

What we got was a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) which cannot operate south of the border and has no similar unit in Ireland.

Then we have a so called Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, which is neither independent nor will it retrieve information.

The fact that there is no victim representative on this commission while the Deputy First Minister can appoint somebody from the provisional movement means that independence will never be trusted by victims.

The way that information retrieval is envisaged is actually a mechanism for the terrorists to evade truthful engagement.

How can a victim ever expect to believe information delivered second hand that they cannot interrogate or question? I met the IRA and was only given 70% of the truth in relation to my Dad’s case but I was able to challenge what we were told (because I met them).

Likewise the Implementation and Reconciliation Group which oversees the structures of the Stormont House Agreement has no victim representative while the provisional movement will have two representatives.

Does all this this strike you as being equal or respectful towards victims? Does all this strike you as repairing harm or bridge building?

Or does all this strike you as simply being a case of “thou shalt not upset the terrorists or their political apologists”?

• Austin Stack is a prison office like his late father

For other essays in the legacy scandal series, click here