Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla — Topical Issue Debate
I would like to convey the apologies of the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who regrets she cannot be here today due to another commitment. On her behalf, I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin for raising this important matter and giving me the opportunity to clarify a number of issues.
The Stardust fire was a national tragedy. It has left a particular legacy of pain for many people in north Dublin. I sympathise greatly with the families of the 48 young people who were tragically killed in the Stardust fire over 40 years ago, those who were injured and those who were left traumatised. These families have suffered a terrible loss. I also recognise the impact on everyone who attended on the night, the local community and the responders.
It is important to say that the new Stardust inquests were directed by the Attorney General, and significant work has already been undertaken by the senior Dublin coroner, Dr. Myra Cullinane. She has had five pre-inquest hearings to date. I am informed that a sixth is scheduled to take place on 13 October.
As the Deputy will be aware, the conduct of Stardust inquests is entirely a matter for the senior Dublin coroner. She, like all coroners, is independent in the conduct of inquests as set out in the Coroners Acts. It is important to note that neither the Minister of State nor her Department have any role in this regard. However, I assure the Deputy and the families that the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, is committed to ensuring that the Stardust inquests and the families involved are provided with all relevant supports. In this regard, extensive work has already been undertaken. Government funding of up to €8 million has been allocated for the new inquests. This funding will help to provide free legal aid for the families concerned. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, signed the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2021 in May. These regulations allow all families, on an exceptional basis, to gain access to legal aid for the Stardust inquests, regardless of means. The Legal Aid Board, which is independent in the conduct of its function, is, I am informed, engaging with the legal representatives of the families to agree an appropriate funding structure and schedule. The funding will also provide for other necessary supports, including the fit-out of the bespoke Covid-compliant courtrooms in the Royal Dublin Society, RDS. Remote hearing technology has also been installed to allow the inquest to be undertaken safely for all concerned.