Monday 20 November 2017

State feared that Stardust tribunal's proposals would expose it to claims

Charlie Haughey among a group of safety inspectors looking at the shocking interior of the Stardust building following the devastating fire
Charlie Haughey among a group of safety inspectors looking at the shocking interior of the Stardust building following the devastating fire
The interior of the Stardust
Aerial view of the Stardust. Photo: Independent Newspapers collection
The Stardust in Artane. Photo: Independent Newspapers collection
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A CONFIDENTIAL government memo warned that the full enactment of the recommendations in the Stardust fire tragedy report could leave the State open to civil liability for similar future accidents.

A total of 48 young people died when the popular Dublin nightclub was gutted in a St Valentine's Day fire on February 14, 1981.

The Artane blaze remains one of Ireland's worst ever fire tragedies.

A tribunal of inquiry was held regarding the Stardust tragedy and its report was submitted to the government in 1983.

Confidential documents, released under the 1983 state archives, now reveal that the government was given detailed legal reasons for not implementing all of the inquiry recommendations.

One briefing memo warned that full adoption of the recommendations "would fundamentally alter the nature of the relationship between central government and local authorities."

It said: "If statutory responsibility for control and direction of the fire service is conferred on the Minister, it is likely to leave him open to civil actions for damages in cases similar to (though not necessarily the same magnitude) as the Stardust.

"It may be argued that in such cases he would bear a share of the responsibility because of a failure to exercise a duty or a power conferred on him."

The advice revolved around the minister taking statutory responsibility for the Irish fire service -- a move civil servants feared would leave the department open to claims for equipment, manpower and funding.

"It could lead to fire authorities becoming simply agents of the central government . . . this would lead to a dissipation of interest and the undermining of independence and initiative at local level," the memo said.

The Stardust tribunal report was particularly scathing about the lack of fire prevention measures which it felt could have avoided the Artane disaster.

The tribunal found that the fire was "probably caused deliberately, the most likely mechanism being the slashing of some of the seats with a knife and the application of a lighted match or cigarette lighter to the exposed foam or the ignition of newspapers on or under the seats".

But the inquiry also acknowledged that the evidence as to the precise cause of the fire was "conflicting and inconclusive".

"The cause of the fire is not known and may never be known," it concluded.

TRAGEDY

The report attached responsibility for the scale of the tragedy to the owners of the premises, their advisers, Dublin Corporation and the Department of the Environment.

In respect of Dublin Corporation, the tribunal found "grave inadequacies in the fire prevention and fire fighting sections of the brigade".

It ruled that the brigade's fire prevention section was "grossly understaffed and such staff as it had had not the appropriate training or qualifications."

Irish Independent

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