Tuesday 12 December 2017

Stardust victims' lobby sought €2m for their costs

McGrath wins fight for Judge McCartan probe into fatal fire

Tragedy: The Stardust fire claimed the lives of 48 people
Tragedy: The Stardust fire claimed the lives of 48 people
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A group representing the victims of the Stardust tragedy are seeking more than €400,000 from the State to cover costs associated with their campaign to seek justice for those who died in the nightclub fire.

The Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee submitted invoices totalling more than €2m to the Department of Justice but are now said to be willing to "finalise the matter" for less than a quarter of the originally proposed costs.

A Cabinet memo seeking approval for the appointment of retired Judge Pat McCartan to examine new evidence relating to the disaster warns that the victims' group has threatened to pull its support for the inquiry if the fees are not covered by the State.

"The committee believe that the Exchequer should be liable for those fees and have threatened to refuse to engage with the proposed Judge McCartan process if the fees issue is not resolved," it states

However, the document adds that "as things stand" the Department of Justice has "no grounds for authorising the payments sought".

It has also emerged that Justice McCartan raised "minor concerns" over a potential conflict of interest arising from public comments he made about the Stardust fire when he was a TD and local councillor.

Before accepting the appointment, the judge, a former Workers' Party TD, flagged the fact his past comments on the tragedy could be "misconstrued as indicating a bias".

However, after consultation with the Attorney General's office, the Department of Justice decided there was no issue with Justice McCartan's appointment.

"Having served as a sitting judge for many years, his integrity and neutrality is established and any comments made by Judge McCartan as a TD in relation to the Stardust, which are publicly available, do not give rise to any concern that he could act as an independent assessor of any potential new evidence," the document notes.

The Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee identified Mr McCartan as a judge they believed should be tasked with examining their evidence, according to the Cabinet memo.

Minister of State at the Department of Health, Finian McGrath, a long-time supporter of the Stardust campaign group, secured the appointment of the retired judge to examine new evidence relating to the fire after difficult negotiations with Fine Gael.

The Programme for Government agreed between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance commits to giving "full regard" to any new evidence which would be likely to "definitely establish" the cause of the fire at Stardust.

In January, 'Independents 4 Change' TD Tommy Broughan tabled a motion seeking the establishment of a commission of investigation into the fire which claimed the lives 48 people in 1981. The motion resulted in a stand-off between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, with Mr McGrath insisting the Government should listen to new evidence being presented by the families.

As a compromise, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has committed to setting up a commission of investigation into the fire if Justice McCartan establishes that there is new evidence which could shine light on the events which led to the nightclub fire in Artane, north Dublin. Mr Kenny told the Dail he would be "quite willing" to have a new investigation into the disaster but he first wanted to see if there was evidence which would justify such a move. A spokesman for Mr McGrath said he would not comment on the retired judge's examination of the evidence as there is "a process ongoing". However, he said the minister "remains fully supportive" of the victims' families and their campaign to find justice for their loved ones.

The fire at the Stardust nightclub happened in the early hours of February 14, 1981. The club was located where Butterly Business Park now stands.

Sunday Independent

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