Stardust victims’ families to pull out of inquiry
Relatives of those killed in 1981 fire say they cannot co-operate with new investigation
The aftermath of the Stardust fire in Dublin on February 14th, 1981. Photograph: Tom Lawlor
The families of the Stardust victims say they are pulling out of an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the 1981 fire and subsequent investigations into it.
The Cabinet agreed on Tuesday to appoint retired judge Mr Justice Patrick McCartan to assess evidence the families say they have gathered since 2008 pointing to the cause of the fire.
The appointment followed a long campaign by the families to have the matter reopened and came as a compromise response to a motion brought forward by Independent TD Tommy Broughan in January calling for a new inquiry into the fire.
Forty-eight young people died in the fire in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, on the night of February 13th-14th, 1981.
The families initially welcomed the appointment of Mr Justice McCartan, saying he was an independent figure they could trust.
Last night, however, they said they could not co-operate with the process as they had not been guaranteed funding for legal representation during the process or that their past costs of more than €400,000 would be covered.
They also want sight of the terms of reference before the process begins, they said.
“We have been treated too badly over the years to be expected to just take part in this process on trust. Would you go in front of a judge without legal representation?”
A Tribunal of Inquiry, chaired by Mr Justice Ronan Keane, reported in June 1982 and found the fire had “probably” been started maliciously and most likely began on a seat in the west alcove of the ballroom.
The families had always rejected the finding of arson and argued sightings of the flames through the roof of the Stardust up to 20 minutes before they were seen inside indicated the fire had started in the roof space.
They say the map of the Stardust, drawn by a Garda mapper after the fire, was flawed and that this led to a series of mistakes and misunderstandings that led the tribunal away from correct findings.
A review by then senior counsel Paul Coffey in 2008 concluded that the arson finding was unsafe and recommended this be corrected. A statement in the Dáil to this effect was welcomed by the families.
However, they subsequently obtained a first version of Mr Justice Coffey’s report which they say was “watered down” before publication. They also say it repeated many of the “mistakes” in the Keane review.
A statement last night said it was “with regret the Stardust families have pulled out of the process . . . The families have been informed . . . they are not entitled to have any involvement in the terms of reference . . . [and] past expenses are not being paid.”
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it would “not be helpful” to comment.
“There is ongoing communication between the department and the Stardust Victims and Relatives Committee on the outstanding issues.
The department is ready and willing to meet with the SVRC again to discuss those issues further, should the Committee wish to avail of it.”
Mr Justice McCartan is said to be anxious to engage with the families and to begin work as soon as possible.