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Mary Lou says senator who retweeted post calling IRA victim a 'sadist' made 'catastrophic error'

Máire Devine has been suspended from Sinn Féin for three months.

90274129_90274129 Sinn Féin's Máire Devine retweeted a message calling Brian Stack a 'sadist'. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated 5pm

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has said Senator Máire Devine made a “catastrophic error of judgement” by retweeting a post which called Brian Stack, a senior prison officer shot dead by the IRA in the 1980s, a ‘sadist’.

The Dublin-based senator has since apologised and been suspended from the party for three months.

Prior to her apology, Devine sent follow-up tweets that appeared to accuse Brian Stack’s son Austin of being overly-sensitive about the issue.

Devine retweeted a post by a parody government account that read: ”Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has congratulated Gerry Adams after the people of New York celebrated #GerryAdamsDay.

Leo had no response to criticism in the #Sindo from a #SaveThe8th Fianna Fáil son of a sadist prison officer.

Sinn Féin confirmed in a press release this afternoon that the senator, who was the party’s Seanad spokesperson on health and mental health, had been suspended for three months.

The statement said she had engaged in “unacceptable Twitter activity”.

Senator Devine retweeted an offensive tweet in relation to Prison Officer Brian Stack who was killed by the IRA. This along with other tweets from Senator Devine have caused hurt to Mr Stack’s family.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, McDonald said: “I have zero tolerance for people or actions that bring grief to the victims or to their families and I want to apologise sincerely to the family of the late Brian Stack.

“Senator Devine understands fully that she made a catastrophic error of judgement in retweeting something that came from a made-up account. And she further made the error of gainsaying the hurt felt by Brian Stack’s son in a series of exchanges.”

McDonald said Devine is “very, very apologetic” and “apologises unequivocally” for the hurt she caused.

McDonald said her “greater disappointment” as party leader was that, rather than immediately delete the tweet and apologise, Devine initially tried to defend her actions.

“I understand the nature of social media, that anybody can make a mistake, it’s so instant.

The bigger mistake, in my own view, that Senator Devine made was not to automatically delete the tweet when it was brought to her attention the full content of it, and not to have automatically apologised.

When asked about a Sinn Féin area representative from Stillorgan in Dublin who also retweeted the tweet, McDonald said the woman thought the tweet was from an official communications unit, adding: “The moment she spotted it was something more than that she deleted it immediately and she apologised immediately, as was appropriate.”

McDonald said the situation “highlights the fact that users of social media have to be very careful – don’t retweet something without reading its full content … just be thoughtful and mindful that when you tweet something it’s going out into the public domain”.

She said she has asked the party’s general secretary to reissue social media guidelines to members and implored people in the party to “please, for goodness sake, be thoughtful, be cautious, and if you make a mistake, accept that the mistake was made immediately and, where an apology is due to another human being, make that apology”.

Devine apology

Earlier, comments attributed to the party’s national chairperson Declan Kearney said Sinn Féin strongly disapproved of what had happened: “This is unacceptable behaviour from a Sinn Féin elected representative.

“The Ard Chomhairle has suspended, with immediate effect, Senator Devine from party membership and all party activities for a period of three months.  The whip has been removed and Senator Devine will be outside of the Leinster House team for that period.

Sinn Féin strongly disapproves of what has happened.  There can be no excuse for the hurt and offence which has been caused to the Stack family.

Devine also apologised. The following quotes from the senator were sent in a separate Sinn Féin press release:

“It was never my intention to cause any distress or hurt, particularly to victims of the conflict. I want to offer my most sincere apologies to the family of the late Brian Stack.

“I accept the decision by the party national chairperson to suspend my membership of Sinn Féin for three months.

I deeply regret what has happened, and want to profusely apologise for all the offence and hurt caused by my Twitter activity.

‘I had to watch my father die’

Brian Stack was chief prison officer at Portlaoise Prison when he was shot dead while leaving a boxing match in Dublin in 1983.

He died from his injuries 18 months later.

Austin Stack said on Twitter yesterday in response to Devine’s initial retweet:

“It really is incredible that a political representative is revictimising the son of an IRA victim. I had to watch my father die after he was shot by Provos.”

Sinn Féin must immediately expel Devine for her “disgusting tweet”, he said.

No apologies will be accepted by myself or my family for this gross defaming of a man they murdered.

He also asked whether new Sinn Féín leader Mary Lou McDonald would seek Devine’s resignation.

After all she did promise a new beginning.

23 Máire Devine's retweet has been taken down this morning. Source: Twitter

Follow-up tweets  

Austin Stack said in a press release this morning that “great shame” had been brought on the Oireachtas by Devine “particularly as my dad was awarded a bravery medal for defending this State”.

He also criticised the follow-up tweets from the Dublin-based senator which he said she had used to try to “justify her position & accused me of being sensitive”.

One of Devine’s follow-up messages read:

Apologies for entire re-tweet – primary issue with Leo. #sensitivity

She then engaged in a back-and-forth with Stack:

  • Stack: ”Senator how dare you speak of my father in those terms. You have brought great shame on the Oireachtas”
  • Devine: ”I bring no shame – I bring equality – especially in health and well-being. We can’t ever agree but can forge forward-Let’s leave it there”
  • Stack: ”So you obviously stand over that disgusting tweet then?”
  • Devine: ”I would review your “compassionate friends” a myriad of agendas – loss is personal and traumatic, its [sic] doesn’t belong to trolls. A conflict that lost many loved ones”


Austin Stack has been engaged in a long-running campaign in recent years to find out what happened to his father.

The case was mentioned in the Dáil several times in late 2016, when Gerry Adams faced calls to identify the ex-IRA leader who met with Austin Stack to give him information.

Adams facilitated the meeting in 2013 when he and Stack were taken in a blacked-out van to meet the former IRA leader.

The man told Stack that the perpetrators of the attack were still alive and that one of them had been disciplined.

No-one has ever been convicted over the attack, and Stack eventually approached Adams as part of his family’s search for answers.

Stack said the man had he had been taken to meet told him his father’s murder wasn’t sanctioned by the IRA leadership.

Gerry Adams Day 

The decision of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to name St Patrick’s Day as ‘Gerry Adams Day’ has been met with a raft of criticism from IRA victims and their families.

Austin Stack’s initial comment that he was “absolutely disgusted” at the honour was reported in the Sunday Independent yesterday – that article was referenced by the parody Twitter account retweeted by Devine yesterday.

90438385_90438385 Austin Stack Source: Sam Boal/

Adams has been in Washington and New York for a series of engagements in recent days, and spoke at an event in DC to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement last week.

George Mitchell, the former US envoy who helped broker the 1998 peace deal, also addressed that event, and former US President Bill Clinton sent a video message.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also attended the New York mayor’s event at which Adams was honoured. Asked about the honour later in the day by Varadkar said there was a tradition in New York of naming days after individuals, adding:

Obviously I send my congratulations to Gerry on that honour being bestowed on him by the city of New York.


The parody account that Devine retweeted appears to have been deleted from Twitter.

Her retweet remained in place for at least nine hours until late last night. That post and the follow-up messages to Stack have since been deleted.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

Read: Family of prison officer shot dead by IRA says gardaí didn’t act on ‘significant information’ >

Read: ‘My father was a loving, caring and wise man’ – Stack family meets the Taoiseach >

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