No Exemption From Scrutiny For Prison Management Abuse

Anthony McIntyre cautions against the perceived needs of the present leading to a sanitisation of past prison management practices.

Austin Stack in his bid to throw salt on the game plan of Gerry Adams, which is to bamboozle and bluster his way through every crisis, risks throwing a wet blanket over the type of discussion so necessary to ignite a more expansive process of truth recovery in respect of the Northern conflict and its further afield fall-out.

When Mr Stack and his sibling chose the behind-closed-doors route of getting to the truth underlying the IRA killing of his father in the 1980s they could not have expected it to be a scenic one. There is not much in the way of ascetics to be viewed from the interior of a blacked-out van. As the journey progressed the fog of deceit so enveloped the destination that reaching it became well-nigh impossible, leaving the Stack brothers to consider that they had been played by the Sinn Fein leader and former IRA Chief of Staff Gerry Adams, seeking “to look good in public by professing to do one thing while not doing it at all.”

As the public exchanges between Sinn Fein and Austin Stack have grown more acerbic, Mr Stack has in recent days widened his field of criticism to cover comments Martin Ferris made in respect of his slain father, seeing in them a comparison between the late Brian Stack and Hitler’s SS. Ferris in fact merely cited the view expressed by two prison staff delegates to a 1982 conference. Nevertheless Austin Stack regards this as a Ferris manufactured smear. "He has slurred my father and that's what he does. It's beyond comment and it just shows what Sinn Fein are really like."

This simply is not so. In his comments on Radio Kerry, Ferris made a serious critique of Portlaoise Prison management rather that a personal slur of Brian Stack. It is a critique that should be afforded due consideration rather than dismissed as a typical Sinn Fein smear.

In his 2005 biography, Ferris is reported to have said:

Stack was a particularly vindictive individual. He would never forget a previous incident, and if he took a dislike to a certain prisoner, he would wait until a suitable opportunity arose to punish the man in some way or other ... He thought nothing of having officers hold a prisoner while he struck him with his baton during a strip search.

Despite both what Ferris said in 2005 and what the IRA told the Stack brothers in 2013 that "in Portlaoise a brutal prison regime saw prisoners and their families suffer greatly. This is the context in which IRA volunteers shot your father", the former Kerry prisoner has rowed back on that somewhat:
"What I said about prison management, and particularly about Brian Stack, I wish it wasn't in the book.”

If he believed what he said in 2005 was true of both prison management and the late prison chief, why now wish it had not featured in his biography? Ferris is simply positioning himself to better deal with the fallout from the current crisis than he is accurately seeking to record history. In a much more obsequious fashion Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin said he "would never speak ill of the dead." Mewling guff which puts him at odds with his party leader who has on occasion labelled as liars IRA dead who claimed to have served alongside him in the organisation's ranks. No more ill commentary on Jimmy Saville from this point on it seems for Deputy Toibin.

Brian Stack worked in an environment where there was an officially sanctioned culture of contempt for prisoners. The political atmosphere of the time was such that the Fine Gael Justice Minister, Paddy Cooney, could emerge unscathed despite brazenly proclaiming that prisoners have no rights.

Prison officers, like their police counterparts, if not constantly subject to transparency and public scrutiny, can be capable of great violence. Portlaoise and the H Blocks of Long Kesh were places where prisoners were frequently brutalised by prison staff. It would be surprising if closed institutions, where there exists an institutional aversion to the light of day, were not replete with behaviour of this type. The vulnerable have always been targeted in such circumstances by their keepers. In a society that readily accepts that priests and nuns abuse, it makes no sense to think prison staff would somehow refrain. Moreover, in a society that has had to deal with institutional abuse on a grand scale, it seems incongruous for it to maintain the fiction that prisons were free from such egregious practices.

This is not to say that Brian Stack was guilty of anything although I have spoken to former prisoners with personal experience of him and whose hatred for him was nothing short of chillingly visceral. Austin Stack is aware that there have been accusations against his late father although he gives them no credence. He is entitled to do so but his case is not best served by pouring cold water on allegations of wider prison management malpractice.

If Brian Stack was culpable for brutality against prisoners, then there is no more reason for that to be toned down in public discourse than there is the issue of Gerry Adams' role in the IRA.

If we are to fully understand the undeniably brutal death of Brian Stack then it is important to have more than a “scenes of crime” view of the killing, whereby everything around the National Stadium where he was shot is forensically examined but little else.


  1. Great blog AM...doesn't dismiss Stacks death but puts it in a context of sorts. The idea that he was shot for being a 'daddy' is callous but one which the State conditions the public to believe.
    Much like the lauding of Eamon Collins by the media.

  2. "No Exemption From Scrutiny For Republican Management Abuse"

    One of Adams's lieutenants to face 'kangaroo court' charges

    Alleged rapist
    of Paudie McGahon arrested by Spanish police

    McGahon: It was like walking into a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis....

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Sex offenders career touts and zero political consistency, the SF collective, taking us to the republic. Jesus wept.

  5. I understand the name of the alleged rapist is on some other websites (crpytome) ,but are you sure you can repeat that on here?

  6. Larry,
    You couldn't write the script for this soap!

  7. DaithiD,

    that's the problem with not paying close enough attention to the comments coming through. I guess you are right

  8. AM,I figured that was the case. Newspapers discussing the incident hadn't named him so I thought I'd point it out.

  9. Nial

    If you wrote a script for the Belfast SF Mafia story no one would read it, ket alone print it or make a movie about it. Too far fetched. The departed goes to Alice in Wonderland and Whitey shags Alice and everyone else available. Psychedelic reading, no drugs required.

  10. Frankie,

    it was removed because I felt it left us open to a libel action given that court proceedings are underway.

  11. Frankie

    You really need to cop yerself on mucker. You'll be over thunder in the remedial corner with McIvor in no time lol

  12. DaithiD,

    had Frankie provided just the link we could have run with it but he went further and made a charge which could (not intentionally on his part) have left us badly exposed. I should have been more careful but merely glanced at it without taking it in.