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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 Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] It is important we say it. I also strongly agree with many of the speakers and with colleagues that locking, and putting chains on, the doors was absolutely criminal.

Let us look at the facts and deal with them in regard to the amendment before the House tonight. An independent legal expert will examine the new evidence and outstanding questions of the families and survivors before a commission is established. There will be a judge on this with strong criminal law experience. All the new evidence will be looked at and examined very closely. In partnership with the Stardust families we are now on the road to getting the answers many of us have demanded for years. For example, some speakers made reference to the evidence of Ms Brenda Kelly. This will be examined very closely.

Let us also go into the details of what is actually in the amendment. There are some very significant points in it. The amendment notes that in the 35 years since the Stardust tragedy in which 48 people died and 214 people were injured, families and relatives of victims of the tragedy have never received full and complete answers as to what occurred on the night of 14 February 1981. That is accepted. The amendment also notes that the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee has continually attempted to liaise with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach regarding its misgivings about previous investigations. That is accepted. I acknowledge the great work done by individual researchers into the causes of the tragedy, on a voluntary basis, over many years. We intend to deal with that particular issue also. The programme for Government states full regard will be given to hearing any new evidence that emerges which would be likely to definitely establish the cause of the fire at the Stardust. The amendment before the House calls on the Government to meet the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee regarding the new and updated evidence uncovered since reviewing Judge Keane's Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the Fire at the Stardust in 2006 and to have that new evidence assessed urgently by an independent person who has the trust of the families. The families will be directly involved in that process. If the independent assessment confirms the existence of new evidence, the amendment calls on the Government to immediately establish a commission of investigation into the Stardust tragedy of 1981. There is no kicking the can down the road. We are trying to move on this as quickly as possible. One cannot put a price on the lives of 48 people. This Government is committed to a commission of investigation if new evidence is found. The money will be made available.

It is also very important that tonight's debate and the amendment moves this process forward. Earlier in the debate Deputy Seán Crowe asked why there had been no prosecutions. It is absolutely disgraceful, but I suspect that at the time many of the laws and regulations were not strong enough. That is not acceptable but I believe that is the answer to Deputy Crowe's question. Since the Stardust tragedy Ireland has seen very clear improvements in that regard. My own personal concern, and I felt very strongly for many years that it was not highlighted enough, was that the 1981 Garda investigation found no credible cause or location of the ignition. There was no evidence of arson as investigated by An Garda Síochána. It was the fire, the heat and the toxic gases that caused the deaths and injuries. What about the unlawful first floor, the storeroom and the concealed fuel? Were combustible materials illegally concealed behind wooden partitions? Did anybody investigate the illegal first floor? These are all the issues I am raising tonight. Did anybody sift through the debris and ashes of the first floor storeroom concrete floor? Were people dead from toxic fumes, overcome by carbon monoxide, before the burning seat was spotted in the west alcove? These are my concerns and the issues.

I want to give a commitment to the families and to all the people and urge Deputies to look at the details and the wording in the amendment. We are trying to move this process forward in the interests of truth and justice. There is no kicking the can down the road. We are trying to do our best for the families and I urge all Members to support us.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I thank the Members on the opposite side of the House, in particular Deputy Broughan, for raising this matter and for the contributions made to the discussions this evening. The appalling circumstances of the tragedy at the Stardust have been recounted with very strong emotions; even after all these years the emotion still comes through. The magnitude of the event and its legacy continues to shock and haunt us all. While words may be of little consequence I wish to express my deep and continuing sympathy to all those who have felt the impact of these tragic events and to recognise that members of those families are here this evening.

  Much has been said tonight and I understand the Government of the day based its actions on the final report of Mr. Coffey and the contents of that final report were his, and his alone. There was a necessity to correct the record and another commission could have happened if no other way of correcting the record was found. The record of the tribunal was corrected by the two Houses agreeing a motion. That was agreed at the time and the record was corrected. There is no secret suggestion of the commission as such, it was about correcting the record. This evening's debate is about how we can proceed - as it is proposed in the programme for Government - by putting in place appropriate arrangements that might help to deal with any new evidence that may have emerged.

  I was very taken with Deputy Jim O'Callaghan's contribution to this debate and his strong expertise in the area. He said that commissions of inquiry can be cold places. The Government has recognised the strength of the concerns that have been expressed on this matter. For this reason it is proposed that an independent person who has the trust of those affected and who is really experienced be appointed to assess any new evidence as to the cause of the fire before we go down the road of a bells and whistles investigation or independent commission. As the Minister outlined, if the independent assessment by a trusted and experienced person who has the trust of the families confirms the existence of new evidence, a commission of investigation will be established and the Government will proceed as outlined in the amendment. I believe that is probably the best and most respectful way to proceed at this point in time. Let someone who is trusted, experienced and independent assess the evidence and bring forward a recommendation; either the new evidence justifies a full blown commission of investigation or it does not. We do not want to go in to a cul-de-sac without real prima facie evidence. Deputy O'Callaghan's observations are true; these commissions are cold places. There was much justifiable and understandable emotion tonight which I felt as I listened to everyone and in picturing what happened. It is appalling, awful and tragic. We must, however, proceed properly and it will happen if an independent and trusted person says it is the way to go.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Clare Daly is sharing her time with Deputy Broughan.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly When Deputy Broughan read the list of names of the victims of the tragedy on that appalling night, a real chill descended over the Chamber. That is why we are here. I salute his efforts and his ongoing work to get justice for the victims and their families. It has been a long and often bitter battle by the community and it has shone a light on the failure of the State over 36 years to get answers. It looks like tonight is going to be a continuation of that failure. That is not good enough. This community and the families have still not got the truth and not one person has been held accountable for what happened on that horrific night. That is why we are here. We are here because the other inquiries did not deliver that. Other Deputies explained very clearly that the Keane tribunal not only did not get justice but served to blame the victims and served to be used. His report said that there was no evidence of the fire being started deliberately but then concluded that arson was responsible. How could that be and what did that achieve? I will tell the House what it achieved.

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