State Papers: Officials keen to keep distance from Stardust compensation

Department staff warned decisions on claims after nightclub fire should be kept from Garret FitzGerald’s desk

The Department of the Taoiseach wanted to wash its hands of compensation claims for victims of the Stardust fire disaster over fears it would be a chaotic and controversial process, State Papers have revealed. Photograph: Tom Lawlor.

The Department of the Taoiseach wanted to wash its hands of compensation claims for victims of the Stardust fire disaster over fears it would be a chaotic and controversial process, State Papers have revealed. Photograph: Tom Lawlor.

 

The Department of the Taoiseach wanted to distance itself from compensation claims for victims of the Stardust fire disaster over fears it would be a chaotic and controversial process, State Papers have revealed.

In a government memo from October 3rd 1985, officials in Garret FitzGerald’s office warned that decisions on payments should be kept “as far as possible” from his desk.

A total of 48 people died in the 1981 Valentine’s Day fire at the nightclub in Artane, Dublin, and hundreds more were injured with about 300 making claims against the State. The average payment was IR£12,700.

In the document, released from the Department of the Taoiseach to the National Archives under the 30-year rule, an unnamed official set out the concerns.

“Unless ministerial responsibility for the administration of the new scheme is fixed soon, there will be chaos,” the typed memo read.

It went on to explain the rationale for shifting responsibility away from Mr FitzGerald’s office to another department.

“Since the tribunal is presided over by a High Court judge and since Justice are the department responsible for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, I think that they should be the first choice,” the memo said.

“If not, then Environment should be the second choice.

“Essentially, I think that the whole issue, which will involve a lot of detailed work, and could be highly controversial, should be kept as far from this department as possible.”

The taoiseach announced plans for ex-gratia payments on September 25th 1985 with the compensation tribunal sitting in private.

Victims and relatives could decline the offers but if they accepted they could not subsequently sue the Stardust owners, the Butterlys.

The fire broke out in the early hours of February 14th 1981 with more than 800 young people inside. Most of the dead were from the Artane, Kilmore and Coolock areas.

Investigations discovered some escape routes were hindered by emergency exits that were locked by chains.

The cause of the blaze was originally classed as arson but some families campaigned for years for a new investigation and in 2009 a separate inquiry found there was no evidence the fire was started deliberately.

PA