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Establishment of Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy

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Air Corps

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issues relating to

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Motions\Establishment of Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy

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Establishment of Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy\Motion [Private Members]
Defence\Air Corps\issues relating to
Motions\Establishment of Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy
Motions\Defence\issues relating to\Air Corps

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Establishment of Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy

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Senator


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Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)

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Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)

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Frances Fitzgerald

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Snippet Contents:

I move amendment No. 1: I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this important matter. As has been said, the events that occurred at the Stardust in the early hours of St. Valentine's Day 1981 are ones that have lived long in the memories of those of us who were old enough to recognise the tragedy that was unfolding before us as we woke that morning. The scale of the tragedy as it emerged was overwhelming. Across the country, thousands of people, young and not so young, went out on a Friday night to dance, celebrate and enjoy themselves. They said goodbye to their loved ones, told them they would see them later and made plans for the following day. They did and said all the things that we do in such routine circumstances. Every parent worries when their child, of whatever age, is heading out for the night. We tell them to mind themselves and to be careful, but we never think that something like this could happen.
Forty-eight young people lost their lives. Many more were seriously injured and live with those scars, both physical and psychological, to this day. We can only imagine the alarm of the families whose loved ones were out that night as word of the fire emerged, the panic they must have felt and the torment they went through as they sought out news of their loved ones. For some, there was relief; for others, the torture of desperately trying to keep hope while they awaited news; but, for so many, there was only despair.
Tragedies such as this, and thankfully they are few, impact on a wider community than just those present on the night. The impact on the victims and their families and friends, on all those caught up in this terrible event, cannot be forgotten. It has not been forgotten. Members of these Houses have in the past spoken of their memories of these events and of people they knew who were injured and who lost their lives. The Stardust fire is part of our communal history. It is right that it is not forgotten and that we continue, in this House, to discuss and consider any measure that may address the terrible legacy of the fire.
Immediately after the fire, a tribunal of inquiry was established. The tribunal reported in June 1982. Deputies are familiar with the report's findings, which were highly critical of the building's owners, the fire safety measures in place, the means of escape and the response of the emergency services. Deputy Broughan has gone into much of the detail. Over the following years, the findings of the tribunal, particularly as they related to the finding of probable arson, were the source of great dissatisfaction for many victims. Concerns also emerged as to whether the real cause of the fire had been identified and the adequacy of the investigations that were carried out.
Throughout the first half of the last decade, the committee representing victims and their relatives communicated these concerns to Government. The committee's submissions also advanced an alternative hypothesis as to the cause of the fire. Following this, the Government of the day agreed, in 2008, to appoint an independent legal expert, Mr. Justice Paul Coffey, to examine the case made by the committee. His report was published in January 2009 and dealt in some detail with the findings of the original tribunal report. Its key conclusion was that, "the Tribunal's conclusion as to the cause of the fire cannot be demonstrated to be objectively justifiable", and that the tribunal's finding of fact that the fire was probably started deliberately was on its true construction a hypothetical finding only. The report's conclusion that the finding of arson in the original tribunal report was hypothetical only and that no one present could be held responsible addressed a long-standing stigma of suggested criminality that some of the victims and bereaved felt hung over all who had been in attendance that night.
The report also considered the hypothesis put forward by the committee as to the cause of the fire but concluded it had not identified any evidence which could establish its cause. It also found that, "the new and other evidence relied upon by the committee at its highest merely establishes that the fire began in the roof space but does not establish its point of origin or cause".
Following that, the Government of the day in 2009 moved motions in both the Dáil and the Seanad which were supported on an all-party basis in both Houses. The motions acknowledged, "the view of Mr. Coffey that to establish a new Tribunal to investigate the cause of the fire in the absence of any identified evidence would not be in the public interest". That was accepted at that time in an all-party motion in this House.
While the findings of the independent legal examination were widely welcomed at the time, subsequently, some family members raised concerns about the process and its outcome. On my appointment as Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, I met with Ms Antoinette Keegan, Ms Geraldine Foy, a researcher and adviser to the committee, and the committee's solicitor, Mr. Paul O'Sullivan, to hear at first hand their concerns. Following that meeting, I appointed an official in my Department to liaise with the committee. There has been significant engagement with Ms Antoinette Keegan, Ms Geraldine Foy and Mr. Robin Knox, another researcher associated with the committee, through that mechanism. I am of the view that significant progress was made in 2015 with collaborative efforts between them and the Department, resulting in the drawing up a document outlining the case as they presented it.