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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 Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly] They were treated with utter disrespect by Government after Government. That was in 1985. It was acknowledged in 2009 and yet nothing happened. Here we are again today listening to the weasel words of Government supported by Fianna Fáil. I have absolutely no wish to be political. These families have suffered enough. It is time to say "Sorry". The owner did not say "Sorry". The owner was compensated. It is time for us to say "Sorry". It is time to say "Sorry" for the previous actions of Governments that failed to take the matter seriously. Without a doubt, there is a class element in this. I have absolutely no hesitation in supporting Deputy Broughan's motion.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I too support Deputy Broughan’s motion to establish a commission of inquiry into the 1981 Stardust nightclub fire. I would also like to state my admiration for the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee and their relentless pursuit of justice, and for Deputy Broughan’s tireless campaign on behalf of the Stardust committee for over 30 years. The families and their solicitor have long been deeply sceptical of the 2009 Coffey report, stating that over 70 highly significant changes made to the report before its publication had the effect of neutering and diluting Mr. Paul Coffey’s original recommendations, including his acceptance that a new inquiry might be necessary. The Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee has presented new evidence to the Department of Justice and Equality. The programme for Government states: "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."

Independent researcher, Ms Geraldine Foy, has spent 14 years researching the Stardust fire on behalf of the victims and families. She knows more about the Stardust fire than anyone else. She has spent the equivalent of three to four PhDs worth of research time on this issue. Why does the Government ignore the new evidence already uncovered and already presented by the committee and by Ms Geraldine Foy? Why does the State not trust the testimony of the people from the community?

  The only person ever prosecuted in relation to the Stardust fire was the singer, Christy Moore. This was in 1985, when he wrote and released the song, "They Never Came Home", about the Stardust victims. Christy Moore’s song called out the Government and the owners of the Stardust building. It was deemed to be libellous.

  In his book The Rocky Road, Eamon Dunphy presented the following assessment of the State’s handling of Stardust: "In the Stardust Story, there lie clearly visible the seeds of the myriad scandals to follow that have rendered Ireland a republic in name only: cronyism; the brutal cynicism of all politicians; the callous indifference of a lazy media class; the endless prevarication of authority when faced with inconvenient truth; and the prosecution of the whistleblower." One has to ask whether anything has changed in the ducking and diving we have seen this week. No words in this House will take away the pain, but justice might help.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle In order to achieve justice, one needs the truth. Nearly 36 years on, victims of the Stardust tragedy and their families have yet to find the truth, despite their desperate and commendable search for it. Their search for truth has been obstructed at every turn by nearly everyone who had the power to retrieve it. Apart from Mr. Butterly’s own attempts to obstruct justice, the shortcomings of the Garda investigation itself have been called into question, including the Department of Justice’s handling of evidence. Conclusions of arson made by the Keane tribunal report in 1982 were controversial and helped secure Mr. Butterly handsome compensation as a result. Even this seemed to have benefited everyone else apart from the victims and their families who were left with questions still unanswered.

Mr. Paul Coffey carried out an independent examination in 2008, and he gave a completely different finding that arson was not the cause. However, the Coffey report was manipulated in between the time the Government got hold of it and when it was presented to this House in January 2009. This was discovered through the efforts of the Stardust families, their drive to seek justice as strong as ever. Through a freedom of information inquiry, they discovered that in an earlier draft of the report, Mr. Coffey stated: "I further accept that a new inquiry is necessary if it is the only way of placing on the public record a finding that is based on evidence." However, this was absent from the public report. It is almost certain that this was an attempt by the Government itself to cover up the truth. Those who had the most power to uncover the truth played a role in concealing it. This alone warrants an independent commission of investigation.

We have a problem with truth in this country. Whether it was the Catholic church, industrial schools, Magdalen laundries, our health system that allowed symphysiotomy, residential care homes, the role of the Garda in certain historic investigations, councillors or Deputies, Ministers and the Government of the day, we all have a problem with truth. Today, we have an opportunity to address this problem, not only for the sake of justice for the victims and families of the Stardust tragedy, but for all searches for the truth. We can do this by supporting the establishment of an independent commission of investigation into the Stardust tragedy as the only way forward.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I sincerely thank Deputy Broughan for bringing forward this motion calling for a commission of investigation into the Stardust fire and for his work with the families of victims and survivors of this brutal tragedy, which is what it is. I also congratulate those, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery, for their perseverance and courage over 36 years in their quest for truth and justice for their loved ones. It is not an impossible quest. This was demonstrated by the campaign for the re-opening of the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster by the Liverpool 96 campaign. The new inquest vindicated the families with its verdict of unlawful killing.

  The term "unlawful killing" comes to my mind when I read elements of the original Keane inquiry. I am going to quote a few of them. Conclusion 9.25 stated: "The use of carpet tiles on the walls of the ballroom and the main entrance foyer was a breach of the requirements of the Chief Fire Officer." Conclusion 9.29 found: "The electrical installation was also defective in a number of respects: in particular, trunking lids were not fitted in several areas and conduit fittings were missing." Conclusion 9.31 stated: "There were a number of serious failures to comply with the Fire Protection Standards of the Department of the Environment." Conclusion 9.41 found: "The locking and chaining of one of the emergency exits was the result of a policy initiated by Mr Eamon Butterly of having all the emergency exits locked and chained until midnight at the earliest." Conclusion 9.42 stated: "This policy was pursued by Mr Butterly with a reckless disregard for the safety of the people on the premises." Conclusion 9.47 found that: "Had the appropriate precautions been in existence to ensure an efficient evacuation on the night of the fire, the injuries sustained would have been unquestionably less and the death toll would almost certainly have been reduced." Those are conclusions from the Keane report.

  I believe it is reprehensible that 70 alterations were made to the original Coffey report. The one key change, which has been mentioned already, was in paragraph 5.13, which reads as follows:

I accept that this is profoundly unsatisfactory to the survivors and the bereaved. I also accept the Committee’s submission that such was the scale of the disaster that it has become a matter of communal if not national history to an extent that engages a public interest in ensuring that the public record of what happened is factually accurate and established by evidence. I further accept that a new Inquiry is necessary if it is the only way of placing on the public record a finding that is based on evidence.

How did that change to what the Government has recorded here tonight? The Minister said that it would not be in the public interest. I believe we should accept the basis of the new evidence that has come forward from the families and from Ms Geraldine Foy. The Department of Justice and Equality should bring it forward, take responsibility for it and bring it to a commission of investigation. It should not kick it down the road as a Coffey report II type of thing. It should not push it down the road. We cannot be sitting here in six months time asking where that report is and how far it has gone. Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn. Hell will have no fury like a community's scorn if the Government does not respond positively and quickly to this issue.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to address this very important issue. Next month marks the 36th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in Irish history that claimed the lives of 48 young people who went out to celebrate St. Valentine's Day but never came home. For as long as I have been involved in politics, both locally and nationally, I have worked with the Stardust survivors and their families to bring about justice and, more importantly, truth, to deal with this tragic chapter. I welcome all of the families in the Visitors Gallery. I give a commitment of my total support. The survivors and their families, as well as many of their friends and supporters, deserve nothing less than answers to how their loved ones died. That is what we are trying to do tonight with our amendment.

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