Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 April 2006

Adjournment Debate.

Stardust Inquiry.

5:00 am

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise the matter of the Stardust fire tragedy.

I offer my deepest sympathy to all the families of the 48 young people who died and of those who were injured. I also pay tribute to the families for their bravery, courage and dignity. I am calling on all Members of the Oireachtas to support my demand to hold a fresh inquiry into the terrible fire, and to support the families in their quest for truth and justice. This is not a time for sitting on the fence or for more talk. Now is the time to support the families with action.

The fire that engulfed Dublin's Stardust nightclub in the early hours of St. Valentine's Day 1981 killed 48 young people and injured and disfigured many more. Countless others will continue to suffer the emotional scars of loss and grief for the remainder of their lives.

The official inquiry into the disaster found that the Stardust owners had acted with "reckless disregard" for the safety of their customers, but no charges were ever brought against them. They went on to win substantial damages for the loss of the nightclub complex. The inquiry did not go far enough. Why, despite numerous inspections of the Stardust by Dublin Corporation, now Dublin City Council, were the owners able to get away with repeated breaches of fire regulations and building by-laws? What caused the flames to spread across the vast nightclub so rapidly? Why were so many prevented from escaping by locked or chained fire exits? Why were steel plates fixed all over the toilet windows?

Eamonn Butterly, who owned the original Stardust club, wanted to re-open the club 25 years to the week after the disaster, on the same site, using the Stardust name. How coldhearted can one get? The Stardust victims want the site to honour the 48 people who died and not to see it become another profit-making pub for the owner, who was responsible for locking the emergency exits on the original Stardust. They want a full, independent inquiry to re-examine the causes of the disaster, given that new evidence has now been uncovered. They also want the Garda in the Phoenix Park to hand over the post-mortem photographs to their legal team to expedite matters. They are 99% ready and want to move on with the details, with their legal team.

I ask the Minister of State to use his clout to expedite this issue. When discussing it, we should remind ourselves that people with families are involved. Let us all remember the victims by supporting their families in a practical and sensible way. Each day, the families hold a vigil and a picket on the Stardust site. This will continue until their demands are met. Fudge or silence from the Government or politicians is not an option. I am challenging all Deputies to support the call for a proper inquiry. The facts speak for themselves. The new evidence is there, and any self-respecting government or opposition would act on it.

I welcome the families into the Dáil today. They are in the public gallery, and again I commend their courage and dignity. I also thank my Independent colleagues, Deputy Cowley from Mayo and Deputy Gregory, for their great support for the families on this issue. The Independent Deputies will stand by the families of the Stardust.

I urge all Members to support my call for a full inquiry into the Stardust fire tragedy. We owe it to the victims, their families and future generations.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I respond to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell.

I join in what Deputy Finian McGrath said about the relatives of the victims of this terrible tragedy, which all of us who lived in north Dublin at the time remember all too well. I can well understand why the relatives wish to establish by all possible methods more facts and more examination of what led to this terrible tragedy.

As the Minister has previously set out, discussions between his Department and representatives of the families led in 2004 to the presentation to the Department of a submission prepared on behalf of the Stardust victims committee and which examined a range of issues relating to the fire and its investigation. That submission was examined by the Garda Commissioner and the Forensic Science Laboratory but was found not to contain new evidence.

To be more specific, the Forensic Science Laboratory concluded that the report in question amounted to a different interpretation of matters already brought to the attention of the tribunal. Similarly, the Garda response concluded that no new evidence was forthcoming that would warrant the Garda Síochána revisiting the investigation and that the matters raised in the report had been addressed by the tribunal of inquiry.

At a subsequent meeting between the Stardust victims committee and officials of the Department, the committee was informed of this position and advised that in the absence of compelling new evidence, the establishment of a further tribunal of inquiry could not be recommended. It was made clear, however, that any further submission the victims committee or its representatives wished to make would be carefully examined. The Minister has reiterated this undertaking on numerous occasions since but as of yet, no further submission has been received. The Minister is more than willing to examine any further submission which the Stardust victims committee or its representatives wish to make.

As well as remaining open to examining any submission which might be forthcoming, the Minister has arranged for a copy of the February "Prime Time" programme to be referred to the Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis, with particular reference to whether it includes evidence or addresses issues not examined by the original tribunal of inquiry. That report is awaited and upon its receipt will receive careful attention and evaluation. It will also be made available to the victims committee and its representatives. The Minister has also indicated that he will meet the committee in the event that there is some new evidence which could form the basis of a productive discussion.