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

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 936 No. 1

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

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call on Deputy Broughan, who is sharing time with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that, 35 years following the Stardust tragedy in which 48 people died and 214 people were injured, families, relatives and victims of the tragedy have never received full and complete answers as to what occurred on the night of 14th February, 1981;

further notes that:
— the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims Committee have continually attempted to liaise with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach regarding misgivings around previous investigations; and

— the Government have repeatedly called for new evidence yet have refused to meet with the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims Committee regarding the new and updated evidence they have uncovered since reviewing Judge Keane’s Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin in 2006; and
calls on the Government to immediately establish a Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy of 1981.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to bring forward this motion calling for the establishment of a commission of investigation into the Stardust tragedy of 1981. In two weeks’ time, we will mark the 36th anniversary of the horrific night which saw 48 young people die and a further 214 seriously injured in a fire in the infamous Stardust Ballroom in Artane, Dublin 5, early on St. Valentine’s Day 1981. It was the worst fire disaster in modern Irish history and continues to profoundly affect many families in several parishes of my constituency of Dublin Bay North down to the present day. This is why we are here again tonight asking for a fresh investigation, for justice and for the possibility of closure for the families and friends of the tragic victims.

  Up to 846 young people headed off to the local Stardust disco on the night of 13 February 1981. The ballroom, managed and owned by Eamon and Paddy Butterly, was popular with young people of the greater Coolock, Artane, Kilbarrack, Donaghmede, Raheny and surrounding areas. Some time after 1 a.m. a fire broke out, ignited, we believe, due to electrical faults, and spread rapidly, fuelled, we believe, by the large amounts of flammable materials stored in the roof area. Panic ensued when the lighting system failed and patrons, rushing to escape as the inferno overhead dripped and spread down from the ceiling, found emergency exits either locked or draped with chains and locks. The horror of that night and the events that followed cannot be adequately expressed here today. Yet that trauma has haunted hundreds of families and citizens of Dublin's north side over the decades since 1981. Up to 44 families lost brothers, sisters, daughters, sons. Twenty-five boys and 23 girls died tragically. Hundreds of others were seriously injured and profoundly affected. Justice has never been served for these families and the struggle for justice for the victims of this inferno and their families continues to this day.

  Before briefly reviewing the powerful case for a new commission, let us remember again in this House the 48 tragic victims and the infant in the womb who died. They are: Michael Barrett, Richard Bennett, Carol Bissett, James Buckley, Paula Byrne, Caroline Carey, John Colgan, Jacqueline Croker, Liam Dunne, Michael Farrell, David Flood, Thelma Frazer, Michael French, Josephine Glen, Michael Griffiths, Robert Hillick, Brian Hobbs, Eugene Hogan, Murtagh Kavanagh, Martina Keegan, Mary Keegan, Robert Kelly, Mary Kennedy, Mary Kenny, Margaret Kiernan, Sandra Lawless, Francis Lawlor, Maureen Lawlor, Paula Lewis, Eamon Loughman, George McDermott, Marcella McDermott, William McDermott, Julie McDonnell, Teresa McDonnell, Gerard McGrath, Caroline McHugh, Donna Mahon, Helena Mangan, James Millar, Susan Morgan, David Morton, Kathleen Muldoon, George O’Connor, Brendan O’Meara, John Stout, Margaret Thornton and Paul Wade.

  Amidst the pain, sorrow and national shock that such a tragedy could happen, Mr. Justice Ronan Keane was appointed to lead a tribunal of inquiry into the fire. It held its first public sitting just three weeks after the tragedy. Mr. Justice Keane’s findings in June 1982 made for damning reading of the events of that night and the immediate aftermath, including the failures of the owners, the Butterlys, of Dublin Corporation, of the then Department of the Environment and of the forensic examinations. Most upsetting and shocking though was Mr. Justice Keane’s completely unfair and unfounded contradictory conclusion in paragraph No. 9.14 that arson was the probable cause of the fire, despite paragraph No. 6.193 earlier stating:

The cause of the fire is not known and may never be known. There is no evidence of an accidental origin: and equally no evidence that the fire was started deliberately.

The sullying of the names of these young victims and the slur over their reputations also resulted in no charges being brought against the owners. Instead Eamon Butterly was awarded over £580,000 in compensation compared to awards of just £7,500 to each of the victims’ families.

  In the decade before and throughout my political career, I have worked with, and tried to support, the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee, courageously led by Ms Antoinette Keegan, Ms Chrissie Keegan and her late husband John, Ms Gertrude Barrett, Mrs. McDermott, Mr. Jimmy Dunne, Mr. Willie Mulvey and others, some of whom are here in the Gallery with us tonight. First, from the mid-1980s, began the committee’s campaign to honour and commemorate the young victims. In the early 1990s, following pickets outside the office of then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, funding was at last made available by Dublin City Council for Stardust Memorial Park. It was completed in 1993 and has pride of place in our local Coolock community.

  Second, campaigners strongly queried Keane’s key conclusion and increasingly raised unanswered questions arising from his report and on the need to hold those responsible for the tragedy to account. Since the mid-1990s, the committee has campaigned tirelessly for a full investigation and full accounting for the fire which I believe can only be realised in a new commission of investigation under the 2004 McDowell legislation. I renew the call for the establishment of such a commission tonight.

  The Stardust Ballroom was converted from the Scotts Foods factory and was re-designed to a leisure complex less than three years before the fire. Keane clearly showed how important conditions of the Dublin Corporation planning permission, fire regulations and the public resort by-laws were not complied with.

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