The IRA admitted responsibility for the murder of the only prison officer killed in the Irish Republic during the Troubles – following a long campaign by his family.
The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams expressed regret for the death of Brian Stack, as a statement was released from a former IRA commander explaining the circumstances in which the prisoner officer was targeted.
Mr Stack, who was chief officer of Portlaoise Prison, was left brain-damaged and paralysed after he was shot in the back of the neck in a Dublin street in March 1983, but lived until September 1984 when he died of pneumonia at the age of 47.
His name only became prominent in recent years when his son Austin, who also became a prison officer, drew public attention to the case. Although most assumed the IRA was responsible, the organisation denied involvement at the time and until now never admitted its original lie.
The statement from the unnamed IRA commander released yesterday said: “I want to acknowledge that the IRA was responsible for the death of your father. I regret that it has taken so long to clarify this matter for you.
It added: “In Portlaoise a brutal prison regime saw prisoners and their families suffer greatly. This is the context in which IRA volunteers shot your father. This action was not authorised by the IRA leadership and for this reason the IRA denied any involvement.
The statement continued: “The IRA was responsible for your father’s death. This operation should not have taken place.”
In January Mr Adams, who is a member of the Irish parliament, delivered a general apology to the families of members of the Irish security forces who were killed by republicans.
His statement was greeted with much scorn in parliament, but this and other IRA apologies have brought no apparent political punishment to the Sinn Fein party, which has regularly increased its vote in both parts of Ireland. Mr Adams himself, who shifted his political base south of the border several years ago, has become one of the biggest vote-getters in the Republic.
The Stack family said in a statement that a review had uncovered major flaws in the original investigation into the shooting. They added that when a new police team was appointed they had been “frustrated at what we can only describe as the unco-operative nature” of the earlier team’s activities.
During the IRA campaign the organisation generally sought to avoid killing Irish police and troops, not for ideological reasons but because such deaths stirred southern public opinion and security activity against it.
In recent years the IRA has issued several apologies to families for causing a number of fatalities, for example saying it had wrongly killed some who were shot as alleged informers. The Stack family said it had met Mr Adams, and an ex-IRA commander, in an effort to “gain answers and some measure of closure”. The family said that while the acknowledgement from the IRA commander brought some closure, they were still left with unanswered questions.
Police in Dublin said their investigation was ongoing.