Dáil Éireann - Volume 628 - 22 November, 2006
An Ceann Comhairle An Ceann Comhairle
An Ceann Comhairle: As the first two items are being taken together each Deputy has five minutes.
Mr. F. McGrath Mr. F. McGrath
Mr. F. McGrath: I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to raise the Stardust tragedy on the Adjournment. This issue is about people, the death of loved ones and families. The Stardust fire was a nightmare for all the families and they all need and deserve our sympathy and support. However, they need more than that and tonight I set out my clear position on the Stardust tragedy. I support the families of the Stardust fire tragedy in their quest for truth and justice. In this regard I call on the Government to honour the terms of Article 40.3.2º of the Constitution which states: “The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen”.
I call on people to support the families in their call for a new Stardust inquiry which will include the new vital information. I also call on all Members of the Oireachtas to support the families of the Stardust victims and survivors’ group. I am here to add another voice to their campaign.
The families of the victims have major concerns about the forensic investigation in the previous tribunal and the competence and integrity of the forensic team. There is a mixed agenda and people want to know if those who were criticised by Mr. Justice Keane were in a position to undertake an investigation.
Various questions arise. Why was the roof ignored? Antoinette Keegan and the families want to know the details of the wall types that would have been the perimeter of the storeroom at mezzanine level, detailing their density and height. Can they see the photographs of where the walls go right up to the roof ridge, because all pictures viewed show an 18-inch gap? The tribunal report states no gap existed. Can they have an explanation from Mr. Michael Norton as to why he said there was insufficient fuel in the storeroom to burn a black pipe? The outside witnesses do not concur with this having viewed the inferno they saw.
A resident took a photograph showing an inferno fire in the roof space some 26 feet above ground level. The photograph was taken at 1.40 a.m., yet the fire on the seat seen at 1.41 a.m. was only 18 inches high, a point previously stated by Mr. Norton, forensic evidence officer. He noted that the fuel in the storeroom would not be enough to burn the black pipe. Could he now realise that he under-estimated the fuel or knew nothing about its existence, and that this inhibited him explaining correctly the rapid fire spread as viewed by people outside the building and heard by many while the roof shattered? Antoinette Keegan and the families are disgusted by this and have made their views known to the Taoiseach.
There are serious questions for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Department is wheeling out the same old mantra that there is no new evidence but does not want to disturb the status quo. Where does the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stand on this issue? Has the Taoiseach read the material? The material is new. Three independent experts  have said it is new. Senior counsel believe it is new. It does answer the criteria for a full public inquiry.
Concerning the case for a new inquiry, in a letter from the office of the Taoiseach received the day before yesterday, the Government seeks a further three weeks because it advises its examination of the technical and legal questions arising is not yet satisfactorily concluded. In response to that, the Stardust families believe that the original tribunal of inquiry reached conclusions in ignorance of crucial evidence. The tribunal of inquiry was deprived of vital information essential to the proper discharge of its terms of reference. Its efforts to determine the cause and rapid development of the fire were rendered fundamentally ineffective. It is no longer safe to accept that the findings of the tribunal on the cause and rapid spread of the Stardust fire have any validity. That too is the families’ view and I strongly support their position.
A vitally important way in which the State vindicates the life of its citizens is to ensure that all unnatural deaths are fully and properly investigated. The European Court of Human Rights has held that it is an obligation of a state to ensure that all inquiries into causes of the deaths of its citizens are independent, effective, reasonably prompt, have a sufficient element of public scrutiny and that the next of kin must be involved. The strength of the new evidence is such that the families have been advised and believe that if available to the original tribunal it would have materially altered the outcome of the inquiry. While the original tribunal of inquiry has concluded, it is open to the Government to establish a new tribunal of inquiry with discreet and focused terms of reference.
Yesterday the families and their excellent legal team pointed to section 40 of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 and section 66 of the Railway Safety Act 2005 which provide that the relevant Minister may direct that a completed inquiry be reopened. I urge the Minister and the Government to listen to the families of the Stardust fire tragedy and to do something now to end this sad situation once and for all.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan: I wish to share time with Deputy Bruton.
An Ceann Comhairle An Ceann Comhairle
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan: I thank the Taoiseach for acknowledging in the House earlier today my interest and that of the Labour Party in pursuing justice and closure for the Stardust relatives and victims’ committee, the families of the 48 young people who tragically lost their lives in February 1981 and the people of Coolock, Raheny, Donaghmede, Kilbarrack and Artane in Dublin North East constituency. I renew my call tonight to the  Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to establish a commission of inquiry into the Stardust tragedy and to review the findings of the original tribunal which reported in 1982.
In a very real way the people I represent have been waiting for nearly 26 years for such a judicial review and it is inexcusable that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have continually stonewalled in their response to the review of the evidence presented by the Stardust relatives and victims’ committee and to the new evidence which has also been presented. This morning the Taoiseach stated that he had been available to meet the Stardust committee since February this year but the meeting only finally took place in September last, more than six months later. Why has a decision on this issue dragged on interminably and why are the relatives and survivors of the Stardust victims now being told that they must wait another three weeks? Why do they have to parade up and down, as they did 20 years ago outside the Taoiseach’s Department? These, including the Taoiseach’s response this morning, do not seem like the actions of a Government that is anxious to help achieve some level of justice and closure for a group of people who have been treated so appallingly over the past 26 years.
Exactly two years ago this month I accompanied a delegation of Stardust survivors and relatives to meet Mr. Seán Aylward, Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his principal officer, Mr. Noel Sinnott. This meeting was held in the light of a new report prepared by Ms Geraldine Foy that re-assessed and rejected some of the critical conclusions of the original Stardust tribunal report and presented new evidence. The report also raised disturbing issues regarding the cause of the fire. In particular it showed strong evidence that the fire began in the roof space where cleaning oils were located and greatly contributed to the rapid conflagration of the inferno. It also showed that maps used during the original tribunal were misleading.
In a special Dáil debate earlier in the year I outlined a number of key issues which clearly point to the need for an urgent re-assessment of the unsound original conclusions of the Keane report. They include a litany of breaches of the building by-laws and public resort laws, the serious shortcomings in the forensic examination carried out by the Garda and the Department of Justice and also compelling evidence relating to the electrical system of the Stardust night club which was disregarded in the tribunal report.
We have had a series of new reports. Two outstanding young northside journalists, Neil Fetherstonhaugh and Tony McCullagh, published their comprehensive book, They Never Came Home, in  2001. We have had the “Prime Time Investigates” programme on RTE on St. Valentine’s night last. These clearly show the urgent need for a new tribunal.
Earlier today the Stardust relatives and victims’ committee asked me to ask the Taoiseach and the Minister to release all records held by the forensic department and Garda detailing their search of the waterlogged basement, as clearly marked on the Garda map. They also asked for the publication of the full report on the storeroom contents at mezzanine level. They asked for the publication of Garda photographs of the storeroom at mezzanine level and laboratory test results from Mr. Michael Norton’s analysis. They also asked why 32 of the victims’ bodies had portions of limbs missing, which the original tribunal report notes but does not investigate.
The substantive issue remains. We welcome the report on the tragic graves and bodies in St. Fintan’s cemetery. In light of the new evidence and the unsafe conclusions of the original tribunal report, a mechanism to facilitate a new commission of inquiry is urgently necessary and I urge the Taoiseach to set it up.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton: I thank Deputy Broughan for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I support the proposal put forward today by the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Rabbitte, to have an independent legal person look at the new evidence, the flawed assumptions that underpin the previous inquiry, the testimony of records and so on. There is no doubt that new experts have cast doubt on the sequence of events as set out in the original tribunal. I do not question the bona fides of the Taoiseach in this matter. As he said, he is not a forensic expert and he is trying to facilitate a detailed review of this evidence. However, I believe he is taking on himself a judgment that should not be taken by a politician. We need an independent legal expert to make the final judgment on the need for further investigation in identifying the causes that need to be studied and the questions that need to be answered before relatives can be satisfied. I congratulate the Taoiseach on the interest he has taken in this matter. However, it is not he who should be carrying out the investigation and making the judgment on these issues.
Mr. Fahey Mr. Fahey
Mr. Fahey: On behalf of the Tánaiste, I thank the Deputies for their contributions to this debate, which provides an opportunity to update the House on the very latest developments with respect to this important matter.
As the Tánaiste has previously set out, discussions between his Department and representatives of the families led in 2004 to the presen tation to the Department of a submission prepared on behalf of the Stardust Victims Committee which examined a range of issues relating to the fire and its investigation. That submission was examined by the Garda Commissioner and the forensic science laboratory but was found not to contain new evidence. More specifically, the forensic science laboratory concluded that the report in question amounted to a different interpretation of matters already brought to the attention of the tribunal. Similarly, the Garda response concluded that no new evidence was forthcoming that would warrant the Garda Síochána revisiting the investigation and that all the matters raised in the report had been adequately addressed by the tribunal of inquiry.
At a subsequent meeting between the Stardust Victims Committee and departmental officials, the committee was informed of this position and advised that in the absence of compelling new evidence, the establishment of a further tribunal of inquiry could not be recommended. It was made clear, however, that any further submission they or their representatives wished to make would be carefully examined. In the immediate aftermath of that meeting no such submission was received.
The Tánaiste has pointed out previously, but believes it bears repeating, that the original inquiry carried out by the former Chief Justice was a substantial and extensive examination with comprehensive terms of reference. It sat for 122 days and heard evidence from 363 witnesses, 161 of whom were present in the building on the night of the fire. The tribunal had available to it a range of national and international expertise in matters relating to fire safety and building construction, and detailed forensic and pathology evidence was also heard. By any standards it was an impressive undertaking and in no sense should it be seen as an inquiry with anything less than the gravity and thoroughness that would rightly be expected in these circumstances.
As the 25th anniversary of the tragedy approached, the question of a new inquiry began to be raised again by representatives of the victims. In response to queries from the representatives and when raised by Deputies, the Tánaiste made it clear that any submission would receive serious attention. In July a comprehensive submission was received and referred to the forensic science laboratory for analysis. This was followed up by a meeting on 18 September at which the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, together with senior officials and the director of the forensic science laboratory, met representatives of the victims committee. The purpose of the meeting was to hear from the committee in person on their detailed submission so as to properly inform the analysis of its contents.
At the meeting the committee also outlined its concerns regarding the identification of five of  the victims whose remains have never been properly identified and proposals as to how this might be achieved were discussed. The meeting concluded with an indication by the committee that it would follow up with some final observations, which could be added to the material already under examination. The extent of the detail and the complexity of the issues, however, are such that the examination of the technical and legal questions arising is not yet satisfactorily concluded. For this reason, the committee has recently been advised that it could be another three weeks before a final and properly considered response can issue.
At the same time as advising it of this, it was however possible to provide a more definitive response on the question of unidentified victims. The Tánaiste is pleased to be able to confirm that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will initiate and oversee a process intended to lead to their identification. The Garda authorities will give their full support in the logistics of this process and will be assisted by the forensic science laboratory with specialist analytical input from the UK. The cost of the process will be borne by the Department, including all analytical expenses, as well as exhumation and reburial expenses, to include the reasonable costs of private funerals following identification. This last item will be agreed with the next of kin of each of the five victims in due course.
The Tánaiste full appreciates the concerns of the families regarding a response to their call for a new inquiry. There is no question that the response is being postponed indefinitely. Their submission on identification has been dealt with in good faith and so will this. Rather than rush that response, however, the issues are getting the careful attention they deserve. Every effort will be made to respond under the timeline indicated and the families can take it that the timeline will not be exceeded.
Dáil Éireann 628 Stardust Fire.