Sitting Time: 18:50
Sitting Date: 25/01/2017
Establishment of Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy: Motion [Private Members]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Finian McGrath):
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to address this very important debate. 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.
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 looked at and 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 with the Taoiseach regarding their misgivings around 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 and I totally agree. 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. The other issue was that 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.