Monday 23 April 2018

New Stardust inquiry on cards as political row brought to an end

Relatives of victims of the Stardust tragedy (from left) Maurice Frazer, Christine Keegan
with her daughter Antoinette Keegan; Eugene Kelly; Patricia Kennedy; and Bridget McDermot
with her daughter Louise at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Relatives of victims of the Stardust tragedy (from left) Maurice Frazer, Christine Keegan with her daughter Antoinette Keegan; Eugene Kelly; Patricia Kennedy; and Bridget McDermot with her daughter Louise at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Relatives of the Stardust victims have backed a Government compromise that will see a retired judge appointed to examine "new evidence" relating to the 1981 tragedy.

But family members last night insisted the legal expert should be put in place "without delay" and that any future commission of investigation should be held in public.

Following hours of negotiations, a deal was reached last night between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance in a move that brought a week-long political row to an end.

The retired judge, who may be drafted in from a different jurisdiction, will be tasked with carrying out a scoping exercise that will examine fresh evidence uncovered by victims' families.

Following this process, the judge will recommend whether a full commission of investigation should immediately follow.

As part of the agreement reached between Fine Gael and the alliance, the Government will be asked to meet the victims' families to discuss the agreed course of action. The deal reached will form the basis of a counter-motion tabled by the Government ahead of today's vote in the Dáil.

It's widely expected the counter motion will be passed in a move that will avert the prospect of Independent Alliance TDs voting against the Government.

Read More: Stardust families claim to have 'significant' new evidence as Government to discuss new inquiry into disaster

The issue of the 1981 fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, which resulted in the deaths of 48 young people, resurfaced after relatives of the victims claimed new evidence had emerged.

The matter was the subject of tense and emotional exchanges at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.

Questions

Dublin Bay North TD and Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath told colleagues he was prepared to quit Government unless a resolution was reached that was satisfactory to the victims' families.

But after lengthy talks that involved Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Mr McGrath yesterday said he would vote with the Government.

"An independent legal expert will examine the new evidence and outstanding questions of the families and survivors before a commission is established. Secondly, in partnership with the Stardust families, now we are on the road to getting the answers we have demanded," Mr McGrath said.

He indicated that the deal involved some form of 'veto' in relation to the independent person appointed to lead the scoping exercise.

"The key thing is the person has to have the support and trust of all the Stardust families," Mr McGrath said.

"They have the right to truth, they have the right to justice, and they have the right to know what happened on that fateful night."

Asked what approach would be taken if the judge recommended against a full inquiry, Mr McGrath said all sides would have to agree to respect the outcome of the scoping exercise.

Antoinette Keegan, one of the survivors of the fire, said it was important the judge was appointed without delay.

"This process must be done properly and in public. The judge must examine clearly why 48 people were unlawfully killed. This must be done in public, there can be nothing behind closed doors," Ms Keegan told the Irish Independent.

The original motion was proposed by Mr McGrath's constituency colleague, 'Independents4Change' TD Tommy Broughan.

Mr Broughan last night said he believed the approach taken by the Government was akin to "kicking the can down the road".

A number of relatives of the victims were present in the Dáil gallery during the debate.

Meanwhile, a bill being prepared by Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea, which proposes to put home help on a statutory footing, was expected to be passed today.

However, there were doubts last night over whether Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would support a motion on tracker mortgages in its current form.

The motion was tabled by Sinn Féin's finance spokesman Pearse Doherty.

Irish Independent

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