Government denies ‘kicking can down the road’ on Stardust fire

Independent TD Tommy Broughan calls for new inquiry into 1981 tragedy in which 48 died

The gravestone of Eamonn Loughman, one of the 48 victims of the Stardust fire. “We are now on the road to getting the answers that many of us have been looking for, for years,” said Minister of State Finian McGrath. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien.

The gravestone of Eamonn Loughman, one of the 48 victims of the Stardust fire. “We are now on the road to getting the answers that many of us have been looking for, for years,” said Minister of State Finian McGrath. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien.

 

The Government has been accused of “kicking the can down the road” by proposing to appoint an eminent legal person to review new evidence and arguments in the Stardust fire which killed 48 people in 1981.

Independent TD Tommy Broughan, who introduced a Dáil private member’s motion calling for a new commission of investigation into the Valentine’s day fire, said a review was unnecessary because “Mr Justice Coffey already fulfilled that function in 2008 and 2009 and recommended a commission of investigation in his December 2008 report”.

He claimed the Government was only “kicking the can down the road”.

But Minister of State Finian McGrath insisted the Government was trying to deal with the issue as quickly as possible. “This Government is committed to a new commission of inquiry if new evidence is found,” he said.

The amendment is a compromise after days of negotiations to ensure Mr McGrath votes with the Government. The Minister had said his position on the issue was non-negotiable and he was with the families on the issue.

“We are now on the road to getting the answers that many of us have been looking for, for years,” he said.

A number of families of victims of the tragedy sat in the public gallery for the two-hour debate.

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Final closure

Mr Broughan said a new inquiry was the only way to bring final closure.

He said the family had withdrawn from discussions with the Department of Justice because it said the families’ evidence had not reached the standards of reasonable doubt on the Keane tribunal.

Mr Broughan pointed out that a fire expert said only a new commission could establish such a standard.

He said the Keane report completely disregarded compelling evidence on the electrical systems, and new research totally challenged the tribunal’s findings and that flammable liquids were found in a storage area in the roof.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the key issue that now arose was whether any new evidence could be identified as to the cause of the fire.

The Government proposed an independent person be appointed to urgently assess the question of whether any new evidence could be identified.

“The Government will act on their findings.”

Ms Fitzgerald said: “I strongly believe that this is the most appropriate way forward.”

Discredited

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the finding of arson had been discredited and could no longer stand.

He said if they were going to establish a commission of investigation, decisions needed to be made promptly.

“It is unfair to the families to drag this out much longer.”

He added that if there was a “scoping” exercise, “that must be done promptly”.

He said it was important to know that “commissions of investigation can be cold, impersonal, fact-finding exercises” and they may not be able to establish the cause of the fire.

The motion and Government amendment will be voted on in the Dáil on Thursday.