Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla — Topical Issue Debate
Michael Barrett, Richard Bennett, Carol Bissett, James Buckley, Paula Byrne, Caroline Carey, John Colgan, Jacqueline Croker, Liam Dunne, Michael Farrell, David Flood, Thelma Frazer, Michael French, Josephine Glen, Michael Griffiths, Robert Hillick, Brian Hobbs, Eugene Hogan, Murtagh Kavanagh, Martina Keegan, Mary Keegan, Robert Kelly, Mary Kennedy, Mary Kenny, Margaret Kiernan, Sandra Lawless, Francis Lawlor, Maureen Lawlor, Paula Lewis, Eamon Loughman, George McDermott, Marcella McDermott, William McDermott, Julie McDonnell, Teresa McDonnell, Gerard McGrath, Caroline McHugh, Donna Mahon, Helena Mangan, James Millar, Susan Morgan, David Morton, Kathleen Muldoon, George O'Connor, Brendan O’Meara, John Stout, Margaret Thornton and Paul Wade. These are the 48 names of those who died 40 years ago in the Stardust fire. Hundreds were injured. We do not know the cost in terms of trauma, heartbreak, marriage difficulties, suicide and addiction, but it is huge. I am asking about the cost of what the families are looking for in terms of ensuring the inquiry into the Stardust fire, which cost all these lives and caused all the pain, can finally be set up.
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.
I thank the Minister of State for the reply. Nobody, certainly not me, wants an unseemly political row over what is an intensely traumatic and sensitive issue. The families, however, feel the funding has not been made available to their satisfaction. There is the potential for 47 families not to be involved in the inquest if things continue as they currently stand. While I understand the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, is not the decision maker in this regard, I urge him to ensure that he speaks to the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, and ensure this inquest can continue and that we will not have any cloud hanging over it. We all want an inquest to begin and the truth to be found in good faith on all sides. What we do not want is to have a row over money, because money really is irrelevant when you consider the list of people who should still be alive today. All of them were young enough to be alive today. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, to make that case and for this to be resolved.
It is the last thing any of the families want to be talking about and I am sure it is the last thing the Minister of State and the officials in the Department want to be talking about in terms of the Stardust fire inquest. They do not want it said that before the inquest began there was a row over money which was not forthcoming from the Department.
I agree with the Deputy that nobody wants to be having rows over funding and I will bring the Deputy's comments and sentiments to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, when she returns. Extensive work has already been undertaken. I understand that work will continue and the Legal Aid Board will continue to engage with the legal representatives of the families. Understandably, this is an extremely sensitive and tragic situation. I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the attention of the Minister of State.