Thursday, 5 July 2018
12. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the call for a new inquest into the deaths of 48 persons in the Stardust fire on 14 February 1981; his further views on the victims' families' long campaign for justice for their loved ones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29596/18]
My office was recently informed by legal representatives acting on behalf of the families that the Stardust campaign has formally petitioned the Attorney General to order a second inquest under the provisions of section 24 of the Coroners Act 1962.
I have no role in the ordering of a second inquest under this provision and it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment in regard to the application to the Attorney General.
The Stardust fire was undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies in the country’s history. I sympathise greatly with the families of the people tragically killed 37 years ago, for the terrible loss they suffered and for their ongoing search for answers.
A motion was passed by the House on 26 January 2017 which called on the Government:
...to meet with the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee regarding the new and updated evidence they have uncovered since reviewing Judge Keane’s report of the tribunal of inquiry on the fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin, in 2006, to have that new and updated evidence assessed urgently by an independent person who has the trust of the families.
The Stardust Victims Committee identified retired judge, Mr. Pat McCartan, to assess its evidence and furnished a formal written submission to Judge McCartan in that regard. The scope of the assessment process was set out in the Dáil motion. As such, it was conducted independently of the Government. It was not open to me as Minister nor my Department to influence, interfere or intervene unduly with that process.
Having carefully considered all material made available to him by the committee, in conjunction with the two previous independent reports on the Stardust tragedy, Judge McCartan concluded that no further new inquiry was warranted. However, I acknowledge the terrible pain and loss of the relatives of the victims and the fact that the report does not come to the conclusion for which they would have wished.
Every Member will acknowledge that after 37 years of pain, the relatives of those who died that night still have not had closure or justice. When one looks back to what happened in Hillsborough in 1989, nobody can run from justice. Only a few days ago, some of those policing the stadium that day had charges of manslaughter made against them.
The Stardust families are looking for a new inquest into the deaths of their relatives. Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the fire that night, put a freedom of information request in for documentation and submissions to the McCartan report in November 2017. Almost eight months after this request, she still has not received those papers which would be crucial to a new inquest. Can the Minister comment on that?
I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the Stardust Victims Committee and Ms Keegan on several occasions. However, I wish to stress again the independence of the role and function of Judge McCartan. The former judge was the choice of the committee which had been consulted in order to ensure its assistance, advice and guidance was taken on board.
Judge McCartan’s report of the assessment process was accepted by the Government and furnished to the committee immediately afterwards, prior to its publication on 7 November 2017.
I assure Deputy Gino Kenny of my interest in this matter. I met with the committee and had an open discussion on historical outstanding matters. In parallel with last year's independent assessment process, my Department met with the committee and its legal advisers on several occasions. My Department remains committed to engaging constructively with a view towards achieving a positive resolution of the process regarding historical outstanding costs.
There is enormous public support for a new inquest and to get to the truth of this matter. That manifested itself at the recent Leinster football final between Laois and Dublin when, on the 48th minute for the 48 victims, there was a round of applause in support for a new inquest.
The relatives will say that the McCartan report was narrow in its remit. They have further information and submissions to another inquest. The families at least deserve a new inquest into the deaths of their brothers, sisters and loved ones on that night. After all, no justice was done to those who managed that facility in any way. The families are calling for a new inquest. That is what they deserve after 37 years of terrible pain.
I do not have any role in the ordering, or otherwise, of a second inquest under the provisions of section 24 of the Coroners Act. This is exclusively and solely a matter for the Attorney General. My expectation would be that the Attorney General will be in contact with the lawyers acting on behalf of the families.
As regards the independent report, the Government was pleased with the nomination of retired Judge McCartan, which had the support of the Stardust Victims Committee. It was an independent process of the Government and produced findings. I accepted those findings on behalf of the Government, as did my Government colleagues.