Tuesday, 20 November 2018
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
This relates to a campaign for a new inquest into the Stardust disaster. Once again I wish to express my condolences to the families and friends of those who died in that terrible tragedy. As the House will know there has already been an inquest and a full tribunal of inquiry into the Stardust tragedy. We must respect the fact that there are differences of opinion among families as to whether they want this to be reopened. I acknowledge the work of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Finian McGrath, on this issue. He fought for and secured a commitment in the programme for Government to have the Stardust fire looked at afresh. Former judge Mr. Pat McCartan, a former member of this House, carried out an inquiry. He acted independently and found that there was insufficient evidence to merit a reopening of this inquiry.
Under Article 30 of the Constitution, the Attorney General is the advisor to the Government in matters of law and legal opinion and has to exercise and perform all such powers, functions and duties under the law. One of the statutory powers conferred by the Oireachtas on the Attorney General in section 24 of the Coroners Act is that of directing the holding of an inquest. The Attorney General acts independently of Government in carrying out his or her role under this section and must do so in a manner that is impartial and fair to all. Section 24 provides that where the Attorney General has reason to believe that a person has died in circumstances which, in his or her opinion, make the holding of an inquest advisable, he or she may direct the coroner to hold an inquest into the death of that person. Where an inquest has already been held, which is the case here, and if a further inquest is to be granted, grounds would need to be set out for the holding of it. It would be expected that any formal request for a new inquest would set out the grounds on which the request is based.
KRW Law, the solicitors acting for the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee, wrote to the Attorney General on 12 April stating that it was putting the Attorney General on notice of its intention to make a formal request to grant a new inquest into the Stardust deaths, pursuant to section 24 of the Coroners Act 1962. The letter indicated that KRW Law will proceed to lodge an application on behalf of its clients in the forthcoming weeks. This letter was acknowledged in a response from the Attorney General's private secretary. However, no such application or formal request to grant a new inquest has been made to date. In July and November of this year the Attorney General's office wrote to KRW Law noting that the Attorney General awaited the formal request under section 24 of the Coroners Act. In the office's November letter, clarification was sought as to who was instructing the clients of KRW Law solicitors. The office also asked for the grounds for any request to be stated. In July the office also acknowledged the receipt of emails sent by an architect with technical information about fire safety standards. The current position is that although the office has written to the solicitors on two occasions since receiving the initial letter on 12 April in anticipation of receiving a formal request, no such request under section 24 of the Coroners Act has been received. However, I spoke to the Attorney General this morning and once the request is made, he will give it full consideration and will look at it afresh with an open mind.