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Establishment of Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 936 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] Subsequently, they indicated that they wished to provide further material to my Department and the engagement continued. Further material was provided to the Department in January 2016. Engagement on these lines had been continuing up until the end of 2016, at which point the committee decided not to proceed with the process. I respect this decision.

I am mindful, as is the Government, of the understandable depth of feeling of those affected by this tragedy and of the need to avoid adding to their distress. It would be regrettable, against a background where there has previously been broad agreement in the House on motions relating to these events, if this consensus could not be maintained.

Returning to the motions passed in the House following the 2009 report, which accepted 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, the key issue that now arises is whether any new evidence can be identified as to the cause of the fire. To address this, the Government proposes in its amendment that, in the first instance, an independent person be appointed to assess urgently the question of whether any new evidence can be identified. The Government will act on these findings. As stated in the programme for Government, "Full regard will be had to any new evidence which emerges which would be likely to definitely establish the cause of the fire at Stardust." If the independent assessment confirms the existence of new evidence, a commission of investigation will be established and the Government will proceed on the basis as outlined in the amendment.

I strongly believe this is the appropriate way forward. As I have said - and I think every Member of the House will agree with me - it is right that the tragedy is not forgotten and that we continue in this House to discuss and consider any measure that may address the terrible legacy of the Stardust fire.

Deputy John Lahart: Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I welcome the family members of victims and survivors of the Stardust fire here and I commend my colleague, Deputy Broughan, on bringing forward this motion. As he indicated, it follows on from work carried out by serving and former Members of this House, including my colleague, Deputy Seán Haughey.

There is almost a biblical quality to the pleadings of the families of the Stardust victims. There is equally almost a biblical quality to the delay in the response from Government to them. They find themselves back here once again, after 35 years - just a fortnight, as Deputy Broughan said, before another emotional and raw reminder of the tragedy passes - appealing to the Government to help them right a grave wrong, square a circle and ensure that their voices are heard and their pleas do not fall on deaf ears. The lengths to which they have been forced to go are unjust, unfair and painful, and the resistance to those pleas causes so much unnecessary pain, so much hurt and so much justifiable anger.

There are still questions regarding the causes of the fire, which means there is a chance that justice has been and is being delayed. A Government inquiry carried out by an independent expert produced two reports, one of which was finalised after scores of changes - I accept there is nothing unusual about that - until a freedom of information request indicated that the unpublished report accepted that a further public inquiry was necessary.

As one of the survivors who lost young members of her family 35 years ago said today, "when you get truth, you get justice". The survivors have compelling reasons to believe that previous attempts at uncovering the truth of the events of the night of the Stardust fire have been incomplete and in some cases even contradictory. All the survivors want is that the truth - the whole truth - be put on public record and that all available and new evidence be interrogated and laid bare. This is the least the relatives of those who perished deserve and the least the survivors and their families are entitled to.

The families are weary from grief and exhausted from seeking justice for their relatives and the survivors of the Stardust tragedy. However, they are, if nothing else, resilient. They continue to find the strength and resolve to carry on the fight for justice and truth. The real scandal is that, 35 years on, families are still fighting for truth and justice. I ask the House to imagine the personal and cumulative toll of simply being unable to rest easy in the knowledge that one's story has been told and that the truth of the matter has been revealed in respect of those who lost their innocent young lives on that fateful evening. Until the suspicions that linger about the investigation of this matter and about a lack of forthrightness on the part of State agencies, until the truth is placed - unvarnished - on public record, the families of the Stardust victims and survivors can never rest easy.

As the Government's amendment recognises, there is justification for further investigations into the events surrounding the outbreak of fire at the Stardust. These investigations need to be timely, speedy, efficient and broad, and not truncated in any unnecessary way. The families will not tolerate being thwarted again or having their concerns placed on the long finger by Government. There are a number of areas of concern to the families that are worthy of further investigation, some of which have been alluded to already by Deputy Broughan. Even the Taoiseach this morning stated that the families have never received a full account of what happened and conceded that they feel very strongly about answers that were not given. I understand that the Government's counter-motion involves some movement on this issue and that it appears the Government will agree to meet with the Stardust Victims Committee regarding the new and updated evidence the committee has uncovered. As stated in the motion, it is important that the evidence is assessed as a matter of urgency by an independent person who has the trust of the families. I completely support the request that if this independent assessment confirms the existence of new evidence, as the motion also suggests, the Government immediately and speedily move to establish a commission of investigation into the Stardust tragedy of 1981. The victims who perished and the survivors who want to lead what remains of their lives and to honour and respect their dead deserve no less.

The families have never given up. Unbelievably and very movingly, they have never stopped believing in the ability of Parliament and parliamentarians and of Government and Ministers to deliver the unvarnished truth. They have nowhere else to turn, and we cannot let them down.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan The Stardust fire was one of the most significant events in the history of our capital city. It was the worst tragedy to befall our capital city in the 20th century, exceeding even the Dublin bombings which took place in the 1970s. It is an event which has had enduring consequences. On a national level, after the fire took place, it had the consequence of striking fear into the hearts and minds of parents throughout the country who wondered and feared whether their children would be safe going out to socialise in the evenings. Locally, in north Dublin, it traumatised the community from which the bereaved came. Most seriously of all, it devastated the lives of the families involved, having lost their children who went out that evening to go to what they thought would be a Valentine's disco but which ended up in tragedy.

There were also other consequences. These will be of cold comfort to the families, but there were positive consequences in that the fire reformed entirely the fire regulations in this country. The fire regulations we have derive mainly from the tragic and terrible experience this country, the families in particular, went through as a result of the Stardust fire. In many respects, the Stardust fire did for fire regulations what the Church Street tragedy of 1913 did for tenement buildings in this capital city. The tragedy of 1913 effectively brought about a recognition on the part of Dublin Corporation that the time for tenements had to end. Similarly, the Stardust fire meant that fire regulation in this country was significantly and dramatically improved.

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