Few Irish radio journalists have devoted as much energy and time reporting the IRA killing of Tom Oliver than LMFM Radio Louth’s Michael Reade. But not without legal risk.
On July 3rd the station announced that it had agreed to apologise to the former Sinn Fein and IRA leader Gerry Adams who had sued Radio LMFM for libel over unspecified remarks made about him in relation to the Tom Oliver murder on two editions of Reade’s show last February. No damages were awarded or paid, nor did the action make it to court.
The precise details of Adams’ complaint have not been revealed, i.e. which words in the interviews were allegedly libellous. Radio LMFM merely issued this short statement:
‘On 14 and 15 February 2019, during interviews broadcast on The Michael Reade Show, a number of false and defamatory comments were made regarding Gerry Adams TD concerning the murder of Tom Oliver. We unreservedly retract these false statements, which we acknowledge should not have been broadcast in the first place. We apologise unreservedly to Mr Adams.’
What those comments were and why Radio LMFM agreed they were defamatory was not disclosed.
There was no court hearing and so no public airing of what precisely Gerry Adams was complaining about. The settlement between Adams and LMFM was out of court. No financial penalty was paid by LMFM nor, it seems, was such requested by Adams. So, at minimum cost to the radio station and with no public airing of the issues, Gerry Adams may have silenced the Irish media on the killing of Tom Oliver.
Thebrokenelbow.com has, however, acquired the transcripts of several interviews conducted by Michael Reade about the Tom Oliver slaying, including those on February 14th and 15th this year which were the subject of Adams’ libel complaint.
The public interest in this horrific killing – Tom Oliver had six bullets pumped into his skull by his IRA killer and was, according to a priest who attended his remains, unrecognisable – along with the controversy surrounding the identity of the IRA figure who ordered his death, strongly supports, in this writer’s view, making these interviews available to as wide an audience as possible.
The slain man’s family have forcefully protested his innocence while two years ago the Gardai relaunched a probe into his killing. At the Smithwick Tribunal, the current Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, who was the former head of crime in the PSNI, wrote down the name of the IRA leader who ordered the Oliver killing and gave it to the Tribunal chairman, Judge Peter Smithwick.
The intelligence agencies in the North, either the RUC Special Branch or MI5, acquired this information from an agent inside the IRA.
The effect of Adams’ legal action may be to close down discussion of the Tom Oliver killing in Ireland. Key questions such as why the Co Louth farmer was killed, who killed him, who ordered his death, and what the legal and security authorities on either side of the Border know about his death may now be forbidden territory for the Irish media.
A key question concerns the nature of Adams’ libel complaint. Was he alleging libel over a claim that he was the senior IRA figure who ordered the IRA in Louth to kill Oliver? Or did his complaint instead concern newspaper and radio assertions that he had urged the authorities not to investigate Oliver’s death?
There is compelling evidence from newspaper and Radio LMFM coverage of this affair that it was the latter which was the subject of the recent libel action, although neither Adams nor Radio LMFM have clarified this issue – in fact they have left the whole question opaque.
But the issue is important. If the libel case was really about whether Adams had urged the security authorities not to investigate Oliver’s murder, then the media is not necessarily forbidden from continuing to report and investigate who had ordered the IRA to kill Tom Oliver.
Thebrokenelbow.com has set out the evidence both from newspaper coverage of the affair and a series of radio interviews broadcast on Radio LMFM; readers can thus make up their own minds
This first interview, of two local TD’s, took place in August 2017 did not figure in Adams’ legal action. Nonetheless it is worth reading.
Michael Reade is joined in studio by Louth Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick and Louth Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach about the newly re-opened investigation into the 1991 IRA execution/murder of Co. Louth farmer, Tom Oliver. Both TDs make an urgent and emotional appeal to certain local people to come forward with information.
Michael: Now we’ll begin this morning with the news last week that Gardaí have re-opened the investigation into the murder of Tom Oliver in Co. Louth in 1991. We’re joined by some local TDs: Declan Breathnach of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s Peter Fitzpatrick to appeal for information on this killing. And a very good morning to both of you and thank you, indeed, for joining us here this morning. Obviously there’s not just a lot of interest about the killing of Tom Oliver but I imagine there’s a lot of knowledge about who was involved in the killing of Tom Oliver and that there’s local people who have information that they could make known to the Gardaí.
Deputy Fitzpatrick: Well first of all, Michael, my condolences to the family. Tom Oliver was forty-two years of age. He was the father of seven. He was murdered by the IRA on the eighteenth of July 1991. He left his home that evening, there was a cow calving, he went to a neighbour, he asked for the loan of jacks and the next thing he was abducted, he was tortured and he was murdered. Tom Oliver was a farmer. I feel he was a very vulnerable farmer because he worked on his own. People in the area – to think about it – when you’re a farmer you tend to do the same thing repeatedly day after day after day – and I’m a firm believer that somebody, some person in Cooley, or some persons in Cooley, know exactly what happened to Tom Oliver. And I think it’s very, very important now – last year his daughter was buried – buried – didn’t know who murdered her father. I’m a father myself. I’m also a grandfather. And there’s one thing: Nobody has the right, no matter what happened, to take anybody’s life.
Michael: And he was executed by the IRA. It’s been reported that he was brought to his executioners by two men, known locally, who’s business was snubbed as a result. So those who snubbed the business have suspicions about who was involved and undoubtedly there’s names going around and have been going around for years. Have you heard any of those names?
Deputy Fitzpatrick: Well, Michael, what happened in the community – it actually split the whole community down (inaudible). At the time I played a lot of GAA football and what it actually done to the GAA clubs and the entire community – it actually split it up. Now the thing that really, really annoys me is that trying to suggest that Tom Oliver was an informer. Tom Oliver was no informer. And Tom Oliver’s family, his friends, the Garda, like the Garda have no reason to tell lies about this. At the time Tom Oliver was murdered there was a lot of talk about ammunition being hidden in the area, that the IRA was training in the area and the Gards were doing an investigation in the area. And to me, what they done was, the reason why Tom Oliver was murdered, was to intimidate the people in the area. I’ll tell you, but I will be honest with you…
Michael: …Have you heard any names, though, that have been linked to the killing of Tom Oliver?
Deputy Fitzpatrick: Michael,I have heard names of people who’ve been linked to Tom Oliver. It’s the same names for the last twenty-five, twenty-six – now the Garda are doing their best at the moment. I am pleading with the people in the area. Someone has to know something. Like how could someone look at Tom Oliver’s wife and his children and his family? And you know, this was a very, very decent man. Like I’m not coming on your programe and pretending that I knew Tom Oliver. I knew Tom Oliver to say hello and at the time he might come into my business and buy a bit of electric stuff. I knew Tom Oliver and to me he seemed a very, very decent person. And all I’m pleading at the moment – this has gone on far, far, far too long and I’m delighted that the Gardaí have opened a new line of inquiries. I hope that they have new information. I hope that somebody has come forward and I hope that that happens ASAP.
Michael: Alright. Declan Breathnach, I’m sure you could relate to everything that’s just been said there.
Deputy Breathnach: Well, I’m glad you said that, Michael, I want to concur absolutely with everything that Peter Fitzpatrick has said and I’m not going to be repetitive on that. My recollection of 1991 was I had just been elected for the first time on Louth County Council
In fact, the STOP (Stop Terror Oppression and Pain) rally that was organised by the community at that time was my first public engagement and indeed my attendance was in support of the people in the Cooley Peninsula who were incensed and angered and indeed the silence at that particular rally of over four thousand people who attended was palpable and everything Peter said is correct and I’m not going to go over that. Whether it was the death of Tony Golden, Adrian Donohoe, indeed Captain Robert Nairac, Tom Oliver, Seamus Ludlow or Hugh Watters in the Crowe Street bombing – families are entitled to closure, entitled to know what happened and I would equally appeal that with the re-opening and the re-examination of this particular murder of Tom Oliver that families be given the opportunity to heal. They’re still grieving and the families that I mentioned also are grieving because they need answers and they need to know what happened. And from my point of view we hear a lot of talk about truth and reconciliation and providing closure and the ultimate issue here is: That this was a cowardly act perpetrated on an innocent man and the family are entitled to, and I certainly, like Peter and I’m sure, most Oireachtas members and most public representatives, would seek justice for them.
Michael: And you’re referring to the IRA’s involvement in this and Tom Oliver was killed by the IRA and I suppose the question that is being answered differently by some people is as to whether this was an IRA execution or if it was a cold-blooded murder. And just to remind people, if I may just for a second, Declan, that the An Phoblacht newspaper, Sinn Féin propaganda paper I suppose you could say, on the twenty-fifth of July 1991 – this is according to Wikipedia at least, ran a headline: ‘IRA Executes Informer‘ and the story read:
The IRA has a duty to protect its organisation, its Volunteers and the back-up provided by its supporters. Tom Oliver’s death was due to his willingness to act as an agent for the Dublin government Special Branch.
Now that’s how it was reported in An Phoblacht and there’s also reports that when he was working on drainage work in 1989 he discovered a barrel. He didn’t know what was in that barrel, reported it to the Gardaí and it turned out to be IRA guns and that that may have led to this killing – whether that was known to the IRA at the time that he didn’t know what was in the barrel or not?
Deputy Breathnach: Well Michael, let’s be very clear on this: You read what was in An Phoblacht. It is clearly acknowledged that the IRA accepted responsibility for this and you know the issue of labeling anybody with the term ‘informer’ – all you do is look it at the dictionary you will see it’s somebody who informs against another especially for money or reward. Tom Oliver was no informer. Tom Oliver, the same as you or I, if you discovered explosives or guns on your property people – whether it was 1991 or today or 1971 – have a civic duty to speak with the Garda Síochána, who are the protectors of this state, in order to ensure that those products are not used to the detriment of people. Now there is an element here that has crept into this whole issue in terms of his death and that is the issue of the involvement of the Garda Síochána. And as part of this investigation, there’s no question in my mind or indeed from speaking to members of the family, that Tom Oliver was under serious pressure in the run in to his abduction and brutal murder. Clearly pressure was being put on him to provide additional information and that needs to be looked at in terms of how those who perpetrated the crime in the cowardly way could even justify that he was speaking to Gards. But I want to make it very clear: civic duty. Tom Oliver was not an informer. And if there were criticism and there is criticism out there of how the Garda handled their dealings with Tom Oliver that also needs to be brought to the fore. But could I just say that it is everybody’s civic duty – I have heard too much talk about truth and reconciliation and people not stepping up to the mark. The leadership of Sinn Féin have called, many times in the past – when it suits – on their members to give information to An Garda Síochána. I know that those people who come forward are not informers. They would be doing their civic duty. And like Peter Fitzpatrick said this morning and I, I’d call on anybody who has information that would bring closure and help to a grieving family
Michael: Okay. Well let’s talk a little bit about Sinn Féin which I’m sure will be of interest to a lot people because Sinn Féin’s position on this killing is unclear. And in 2002 in the general election campaign, the sitting TD or the Councillor, Arthur Morgan, who went on to become a TD, was asked by Tom Oliver’s son, Eugene, in a letter that he wrote to The Argus at the time – What’s the difference between the murders of Seamus Ludlow and Tom Oliver? Because as you say, Declan Breathnach, Sinn Féin have campaigned for a long period of time for information into the wrongful killing of Seamus Ludlow and he wanted a similar statement from that political party at that time. I don’t think Sinn Féin has ever taken a public position on the killing of Tom Oliver other than the one that I read from An Phoblacht earlier on this morning. Just to mention to our listeners as well: We did seek to speak with Gerry Adams about this on the programme last week when Gardaí announced that they were re-opening the investigation. Mr. Adams has been on holidays. I think he’s to return this week and perhaps he’ll speak to us at some stage this week about this new investigation. In his absence we sought to speak with the other TD for the constituency, Imelda Munster, who told us on Wednesday that she would hope to speak to us on Friday but on Thursday she said she wouldn’t be speaking on the matter to us. So we returned then to the Sinn Féin Press Office and we asked that they would issue us with a statement on the killing of Tom Oliver and as yet we have not heard from Sinn Féin. Peter Fitzpatrick, do you remember any statement from Sinn Féin in relation to the killing of Tom Oliver?
Deputy Fitzpatrick: No, Michael, I never remember Sinn Féin making any kind of statements. My big concern although, Michael, is that I do believe that the IRA are still in the Cooley Peninsula area. I still believe that there’s people in the area knows exactly what happened to Tom Oliver. I do believe that people in the area would want to come forward but they do fear for their life. I’m not coming onto your programme to criticise Sinn Féin. I do believe that Sinn Féin knows something about Tom Oliver’s murder. And I would plead with Deputy Gerry Adams and Deputy Imelda Munster to please have a chat with your organisation. Please find out exactly what happened to Tom Oliver. Whether they know or don’t know there is people in the organisation I do believe – like go back to 1998 to the Good Friday Agreement – I think that was one of the best things to ever happen in this country. But to get the Cooley Peninsula back to the way it was it’s so, so important that the Tom Oliver murder – and it is murder because the man was abducted, he was tortured, he was murdered – a priest went in afterwards to have a look at the body and he could not recognise the body! Now I will be honest – I was talking to members of Tom Oliver’s family over the weekend and I have to be very careful because in fairness – the family – this is taking the whole thing back up again and like you know and I believe that his wife has only found out recently what actually happened to her husband you know so I don’t want to start going on and on. But I do plead with people in the areas. And listen, whether or not you want to go to see the Garda Síochána, you can either go to see Declan or myself, we’re making ourselves available there at the moment as it is but I think we need clarity and I think for the Cooley Peninsula and in fairness it has come a long, long, long way at the moment but there is still something wrong right at the moment – there is. Like twenty-six years later no matter whether you go to Carlingford or Omeath or any part of the Cooley Peninsula the name of Tom Oliver is there. And also I can see the fear of people at the moment is. This one thing is – like it’s bad enough doing harm but when you actually cold-blooded murder the person. I’m an ex-soldier. I was a member of the 27th Battalion and I know a little bit about weapons and shooting and I’ll tell you, it takes an awful lot for a person to put a bullet, to shoot somebody, but this man Tom Oliver was tortured first…
Michael: …But that’s it and I must say, I know that the family are listening and I’m acutely aware of that and we do have to be sensitive to that but we also have to be realistic about the conversation if we’re to appeal to other people who might have information as to whether they should come forward with that information or not because you describe it as a cold-blooded murder but there are, undoubtedly, others who would see this as an act of war, if you like – that this was an execution and that whether Tom Oliver was, or was not, an informer the perception was that he had informed and there was a line of command and the command was to execute this man.
Deputy Fitzpatrick: Well I’m a firm believer that the people in the Cooley and Peninsula area wanted peace – that’s to me what is was, peace. And what was happening was the Cooley area in the ’90’s was being used for training, for holding ammunition and, in fairness, like what happening was people were fed of it and what the IRA was a wee bit afraid of – I’m a firm believer – this was a plot by the IRA. I believe they used Tom Oliver as a scapegoat. I think they used Tom Oliver’s shooting to intimidate people in the area. And now listen – people listen: Let’s stand up. The IRA are still in the Cooley area. We have to get rid of the IRA. The 1998 peace process has taken us a long way but until we (inaudible) and get rid of it once and for all and I might, before I finish up talking, Michael, I want to reiterate: I want Gerry Adams and Imelda Munster to come out here now and say honestly either they know who killed Tom Oliver or they don’t know who killed Tom Oliver because I am fed up to the teeth here at the moment listening to this. I do believe there’s people in the Cooley area that actually was either involved or know who killed Tom Oliver and I’m pleading with people to come to see Declan, myself or the Gards – whatever they want. Listen, let’s get it sorted once and for all.
Michael: Okay, let me go back to Declan Breathnach because if there are people listening to us who have information about the killing of Tom Oliver it’s quite possible that they would have been supporters of the IRA campaign. Is it possible to envisage them coming forward with information that might result in a prison sentence for people who carried out what they believed to have been an act of war?
Deputy Breathnach: Whether you’re a member of Sinn Féin, a member/former member of the IRA or had been involved in both, my definition of true Republicanism is respect for everybody and no death or murder can be justified. My difficulty in all of this is that there’s been too much fudge when it suits, people say certain things and when it doesn’t it ignores or refuse to participate. The reality, and it’s known and history will write, that people who have been involved, whether they have ‘left the stage’, as I think is the phrase that was used by Sinn Féin, and the orders from the IRA for people to desist, the reality is that some people have come in to the democratic process, there are others on the fringes of it and we have that even in the Dáil Éireann to this day and right across the country. People have to – I’ve been described more recently on your programme, Mike, as a ‘dinosaur’. I’m not a dinosaur. The reality here, and people know it, press reporters know it – that there are people who want to ride two and three horses and will continue to put unnecessary pressure to deliver a united Ireland and unnecessary upset to families and that has to stop. And the way that can stop is by people coming forward and giving the information and bringing closure to an ever-grieving family – until the family’s name is cleared. Tom Oliver was doing his civic duty – no more nor less.
Michael: And would that in itself be enough that there would be a statement from the IRA, in other words to that effect, rather than people being brought before the courts?
Deputy Breathnach: I think in the whole issue of – I’m not going to second guess what Gerry Adams or the organisations involved or are no longer involved want to do…
Michael: …No, but I go back to the question that I put to you about asking people to come forward and inform on members of the IRA if they are people who supported the IRA campaign – it’s not a realistic proposition I wouldn’t think.
Deputy Breathnach: I do think that it would go some way for the family to hear that Tom Oliver was a decent farmer going about his business rearing and trying to rear his family in a difficult time and that he was doing his civic duty. After that, if somebody has murdered somebody, as they have, I certainly believe – and if it was my dad or your dad, Mike, I think we would want to see justice in people being brought to trial. We had the whole issue of getting repatriation of people, not having to serve sentences as result of the Good Friday Agreement – murder is murder in my language and it’s up to people to examine their conscience and, indeed, to be truthful in relation to the past and that can be done through truth and reconciliation but let the people listening to this programme be under no illusion – Tom Oliver was doing nothing more than his civic duty in any communication he had with An Garda Síochána.
Michael: Okay. And you’ve both been speaking with the Oliver Family. It’s your understanding, certainly Peter Fitzpatrick, that the family would take some sort of satisfaction from a statement to that effect which would indicate that it was wrong to suggest that Tom Oliver was an informer.
Deputy Fitzpatrick: Oh, yes! Like as you said straightaway, the IRA Press Office came out and stated that Tom Oliver was an informer. Tom Oliver was no informer. Basically what the family wants is closure as I say at this moment is the family want to know what actually happened to their father. They want to know who actually murdered their father in cold blood. Like Tom Oliver went, he was abducted, he was murdered – he was tortured! And like, you imagine, Michael, that was your father. You imagine your father being abducted, being tortured, then he’s shot in the head, being left on the side of a road. This can’t go on! But my main trouble at the moment is in the Cooley area, I know in my heart and my soul there is people in the Cooley area knows exactly what happened to Tom Oliver. I know in my heart and my soul that they want to come forward but it’s a fear factor. And I’m telling you – this new investigation – please contact your local Garda. Please contact either the police or a politician.
Like when Tom Oliver was murdered there was four or five thousand people that attended the funeral – like the Archbishop, the Cardinal – all political parties condemned it. I just do believe that there is someone in the area that knows what happened. Let’s get this family, after all this length of time, let’s get them some kind of closure. As I said to you, one of his daughters was buried there last year and she went to her grave and didn’t realise what happened to her father. All the family want is closure. All the family want is whoever knows what happen to their father – let them know what happened to their father over that period of twenty-four hours.
Michael: Okay, we’ll leave it there for the moment. Thank you both for joining us here on the programme this morning. Peter Fitzpatrick is a Fine Gael TD in Louth and we were also speaking with Declan Breathnach who’s a Fianna Fáil TD for Louth.