Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

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

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 936 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 76 Next Page Last Page

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] For Mr. Eamon Butterly, it achieved more than €500,000 in compensation and a placing of the blame for this horrific tragedy on the victims. This is the same Eamon Butterly whose mismanagement and reckless policies were pinpointed in the Coffey report in 2008, which noted that had the venue exits been unlocked and unobstructed, people could have exited in a safe and timely manner. In other words, the Coffey report clearly stated the fire should not have happened.

Almost ten years later, however, nobody has been held to account. Twelve years ago, a nightclub fire in Buenos Aires in which close to 200 young people died led to the promoter being sentenced under criminal negligence charges. Seven years ago, in Bangkok, 67 young people died in a similar tragedy. In that case, the owner of the nightclub was charged and imprisoned, with 12 others. Three years ago, in Brazil, 200 people died in a tragic nightclub fire, as a consequence of which the owners were convicted of negligent homicide. Thirty-six years after the Stardust fire, despite all the evidence of criminal negligence, nobody has been held to account. The Government can dress its proposal up however it likes but it serves only to delay matters.

It is an affront to all of us that this proposal is being delivered by a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, sadly supported by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. These are the same parties that were in power for the past 36 years and have seen all the reports. The only reason this motion is on the business of the House today is that Deputy Broughan pushed for its inclusion. Opposition Deputies' speaking time is very limited; our group gets an opportunity once a Dáil term. It is only because Deputy Broughan chose to prioritise this issue that we have an opportunity to discuss it today.

This House has agreed to the establishment of commissions of investigation in the past. The last Dáil agreed to do so in respect of the "Grace" foster abuse case, but that commission has not even been set up yet. The pre-inquiry the Government is proposing was conducted almost ten years ago and the person who did it, Mr. Coffey, recommended at the time that there be a public inquiry. I urge the Government to revise its stance on this issue. It has until tomorrow to deliver, and further delaying tactics are not good enough. People want the truth and they want accountability, as has been achieved in other jurisdictions. The horror arising from this tragedy runs deep. I have spoken to Leinster House staff who were young people in Dublin at the time of the tragedy. The legacy persists and it will not end until there is a full inquiry. I appeal to the Government to change tack at this late stage and support Deputy Broughan's motion.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan I thank my colleagues in Independents 4 Change, the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party for supporting the call for an investigation into the Stardust tragedy under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. I am disappointed by Fianna Fáil's response to the motion but even more disappointed by the response of the Government, particularly in the case of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. It was following a consultation process with the Stardust families that Mr. Coffey was appointed to conduct a new inquiry into the tragedy. Having considered all of the evidence and reviewed the Keane report transcripts, Mr. Justice Coffey definitively concluded, as my colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett, illustrated in his contribution, that a commission of investigation was necessary.

  I said on Leaders' Questions some months ago that the Department of Justice and Equality continued to stonewall on the clear and obvious need for the establishment of a commission of investigation under the 2004 Act. We have more of the same this evening. The private investigations that were carried out since the late 1990s show the Keane tribunal was profoundly mistaken in its conclusion, much crucial eye witness evidence was missed and there were serious shortcomings in the forensic examination by An Garda Síochána and the then Department of Justice. The body of research and new evidence presented by Ms Geraldine Foy, Mr. Robin Knox and others includes details of the use of inaccurate building plans in the Keane inquiry process, the existence of a store room with access to the roof loaded with inflammable cooking oil and aerosols, long-standing electrical and heating system safety issues, including arcing and overloading, earlier external sightings of the fire in the roof space from 1.30 a.m., the wave of heat from the ceiling felt by disco goers and staff, and new evidence pointing very strongly to ignition in the ceiling area. There is enough evidence there to bring a commission of investigation into existence. Deputy O'Callaghan emphasised the powers and modus operandi of such commissions. That is precisely what the people in my constituency want, namely, an investigative body which can ensure, at long last, that they will have justice, peace and closure.

  I take the opportunity to pay warm tribute to Ms Antoinette Keegan, Ms Chrissie Keegan and their colleagues who have worked so hard, so diligently and for so long on this project for justice. Besides engaging in the collection of new evidence and their interactions with this House, they attempted, in late 2011, to bring the Stardust case before the European Court of Human Rights under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the right to life. The 48 victims of the Stardust tragedy were, they rightly claimed, denied the most fundamental right of all. The plaintiffs argued in the two cases against Ireland that the convention had been breached due to deficiencies in the investigation into the deaths. That case did not continue simply on time grounds.

  On 23 June 2016, I again, during Leaders' Questions, raised the need for a commission of investigation. Once more, the Tánaiste engaged in a stonewalling exercise and repeated the mantra of a need for new evidence, notwithstanding all the important new facts that have been supplied. As several colleagues noted, those who attended the Stardust nightclub on that fateful night were almost all in the 18 to 25 age cohort, with the average age being 19. Now, 36 years later, they are in their mid-50s to mid-60s, while some other important witnesses are much older. The commission must be established as soon as possible in order that everybody can be heard again and we can finally achieve closure and justice. In response to a series of parliamentary questions tabled by me, the Tánaiste referred to the investigation by An Garda Síochána, which she described as complex, and emphasised that she could do nothing which might undercut it. However, the very existence of that investigation reflects the huge range of unanswered questions, unassessed and missed evidence, and the profound deficiencies of the Keane tribunal investigation. I asked the Tánaiste about the possibility of reopening the coroner's inquest into the deaths of the 48 young people, to which I received a standard reply that inquests were held in early March 1982 under the Coroners Act and pointing out that the coroner exercises quasi-judicial functions and that she, the Tánaiste, has no role in individual cases. In October last year, I wrote again to the Dublin City Coroner asking that the inquest be reopened and what information would be required in order to do so. Dr. Myra Cullinane stated in her reply:

These inquests were held before a jury and presided over by the then Dublin City Coroner, Professor Bofin. I have therefore no jurisdiction to reopen these inquests in the above circumstances.

What are the circumstances in which the inquests could be reopened?

  It is incomprehensible to me that we are still seeking justice and closure on this matter. In preparing for today's motion, I revisited my many files on the Stardust tragedy. When one reviews the timeline of events and the litany of instances of grievous treatment of the victims' families and subsequently the victims committee, one cannot help but feel great anger and frustration on their behalf. What we should all be feeling is empathy. If any member of our own families had been directly affected by this tragedy, we would react with great anger and determination. In October last year, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, presented a submission to the Attorney General, Ms Máire Whelan, entitled "Insults towards the Stardust 48 Fatal Victims". There have been 36 years of insults to the 48 young people who lost their lives.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy is over time.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan If not for the valiant and tenacious work of the grieving families, none of the positive actions of the campaign for justice would have come about, the finding of arson would not have been expunged, the Stardust Memorial Park would not exist, the five unnamed bodies would have remain unidentified, and even the Government's offer of a rerun of a Coffey-type investigation would not be on the table tonight.


Last Updated: 05/03/2018 10:25:33 First Page Previous Page Page of 76 Next Page Last Page