Judge likely to be appointed to investigate new Stardust evidence

Finian McGrath and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald agree on motion after discussions

Antoinette Keegan survived the Stardust nightclub fire in February 1981 but lost her sisters Mary and Martina to the blaze in which 48 people died and 214 were injured. Video: Bryan O’Brien

 

A legal expert is to be appointed to investigate new evidence about the February 1981 Stardust nightclub tragedy after a compromise was agreed between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance.

Minister of State for Health Finian McGrath and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald agreed the motion on Wednesday after two days of discussions between the sides. The talks came after Independents4Change TD Tommy Broughan brought a Dáil motion calling for a new inquiry.

The Government has committed to appointing an independent person who has the trust of the families affected by the blaze at the Artane nightclub in which 48 people died and 214 were injured.

The legal expert is expected to be a member of the judiciary, and could be brought in from outside the State. They will be tasked with examining new information about the fire.

Mr McGrath said the families would have a significant say in who would be appointed, and could have the power to veto an appointment.

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The legal expert will be asked to make a recommendation on whether a commission of investigation is warranted.

Mr McGrath said those involved in the case would have to take regard of the opinion of the independent person.

Decision

The agreement reached also commits to a meeting between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the families of those affected.

A counter-motion was agreed after two days of negotiation between Mr McGrath, his colleague Minister for Transport Shane Ross and the Tánaiste.

Ms Fitzgerald was not opposed to the establishment of a statutory inquiry, but felt it was important to have a scoping exercise first.

Fianna Fáil agreed to support the counter-motion when the vote takes place today, while Sinn Féin will support Mr Broughan’s original motion.

Mr McGrath had sought a free vote on the matter but due to its inclusion in the programme for partnership between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, there was a call for a collective Cabinet decision.

Mr McGrath declined to say if he was willing to walk from Government on the issue, but said his loyalty lay with the Stardust families.

Meanwhile, the Government will lose a vote today over its stance on redress for tracker mortgage holders. Sinn Féin has tabled a motion calling on the Central Bank to compensate thousands of people wrongly denied tracker mortgages, and Fianna Fáil said it will not support the Government position.