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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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  8 o’clock

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I commend Deputy Broughan on bringing forward this motion, his brilliant advocacy on behalf of the Stardust families and his review of the case this evening. I commend Antoinette, Robin, Geraldine and all the families who have fought long and hard to get justice and truth for the families and victims.

The suffering, hardship and pain endured by the families is simply indescribable. No one in the House can ever fully know or understand it. That hardship, suffering and loss cannot be undone. However, what we can do is give closure, truth and justice to the families and victims. Again and again, the families have said they want to establish the truth and get justice on the basis of a new commission of investigation that would look at all the evidence, in particular, the new evidence that they have already presented to the Government.

The Minister should correct the record following what the Taoiseach said in the Dáil today. He said he had not seen or the Government had not seen the evidence. At the request of Antoinette Keegan, I personally handed the file with the evidence to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on the last day of the last Dáil. The Government has the evidence, which includes, although it is not limited to, facts relating to the five dead young men found some 29 feet away from the west alcove, where, the Keane report claims, the fire started. According to the pathologist, Derek Carson, the men were already dead from carbon monoxide poisoning at the point when Judge Keane said the fire started. These two things cannot both be true.

Second, a 999 telephone call was made by Brenda Kelly at 1.43 a.m., reporting that there was a fire in the roof and that it was well advanced. Judge Keane states a small fire started in the western alcove at 1.43 a.m. Both statements cannot be true. The evidence of Brenda Kelly has not been taken into account. Furthermore, there is evidence that the map used as the basis for the official findings on the fire was not the correct map. This was something that even Butterly said at the Keane hearing. He said the map was wrong and that it did not show the storeroom where, the families believe, the fire actually started earlier than the time given in the official record. They believe it started there because the room was full of combustible material placed there by the owners of the night club and neglected electrics likely ignited that combustible material, which caused the firestorm that killed 48 young people. That is the evidence, and it is sufficient evidence for the families to expect a commission of inquiry after all these years. We do not need another review of it. We need a proper and full investigation of all the evidence. That would be sufficient.

The families also want to get to the bottom of the fact that there are two Coffey reports, the first of which recommends a new inquiry to assess compelling evidence. In the letter accompanying that first report, there is no mention of it being a draft, although the Government insists on using that term. In the letter, Mr. Coffey states that, pursuant to his appointment on 11 July, he has completed his examination of the Stardust Victims Committee's case for a reopened inquiry. This was in Mr. Coffey's letter of 8 December.

We have also discovered something following a freedom of information request. I asked for information under the freedom of information process and got a response from the Minister on 17 January 2017. We asked for the records pursuant to any meetings that took place on foot of the first report. I got a response from the Minister stating there were no records and no meetings, yet the freedom of information request provided to the families shows that documents existed. They were not released under the freedom of information request, but they existed. Therefore, the Dáil was misled. There were two memoranda. One was from the Department of Justice and Equality and the other was a memorandum for the information of the Government along with associated Government papers. They were not released because they were part of Government deliberations on the report. Those memoranda should be released because they are key to understanding what changed between the first report that recommended a new inquiry and the second report.

The Minister insists on calling the first report a draft, but Mr. Coffey disputes that in his letter. The Minister has no evidence to support the claim. The Minister states Mr. Coffey asked for the right to clarify, change and amend the report. Where is the evidence for that? There is nothing in the freedom of information documentation or the correspondence from Mr. Coffey to support the claim; surely Mr. Coffey would have said it. When Mr. Coffey was submitting his report to the Minister, surely he would have explained that it was a draft and that he intended to make further changes. Why did he not say that? Where is the evidence to confirm that he wanted to amend it? There is none. He refers to it as a completed report.

Something happened after that point, whatever considerations and memoranda passed between various Departments. Whatever the nature of the deliberations at the Cabinet, lo and behold, a new report came out with 70 changes, including, critically, the change removing Mr. Coffey's recommendation for a new inquiry. We need the truth on this. What happened? What was in those memoranda? What happened in the Cabinet when this evidence was discussed? Why does the Government insist on stating it does not have new evidence when that new evidence has been presented? There is no need for further delay. There is no need to make another hurdle for the families to jump over. They have fought between 1981 and 2008 to exonerate their kin from the charge of being guilty of their own killings. Now, another hurdle is being put in their way. That hurdle should be removed. The amendment should be withdrawn and the commission of investigation should be set up forthwith.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I have no hesitation in supporting the motion tabled by Deputy Broughan. I thank him for his persistence and, more importantly, I thank the survivors and families for their persistence. In several weeks' time they will have a sad commemoration. It will be 36 years since the disaster in 1981.

There has been a move from some speakers, especially from Fianna Fáil, to talk about a change in legislation. For the record, it is important to point out that what happened at the time was clearly against fire regulations. That was set out clearly in the report by Mr. Justice Ronan Keane. He said that the carpet tiles represented a breach of the requirements of the chief fire officer. There were failures to comply with the fire protection standards. Therefore, what happened at the time was in breach of regulations. It is shocking that there was no prosecution whatsoever.

I am especially disappointed with the attitude of the Government tonight. We should bear in mind the physical barriers in place on the night when the doors were locked and the number of barriers that the families have had to cope with since then over a 36 year period. They had to wait until 1985 for the compensation tribunal. That followed the findings of Mr. Justice Ronan Keane to the effect that someone was responsible for arson. It took 27 years for that verdict to be changed. The tribunal of compensation was set up in 1985. However, it emerged subsequently during the review by the barrister, Mr. Coffey, that the families had received absolutely no treatment or care.

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