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Majority of victims' families could be excluded from Stardust inquest, TD warns

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the Stardust fire in 1981, which claimed the lives of her sisters, Mary and Martina. Picture by RTE
James Ward, PA

A fresh inquest into the Stardust fire is in doubt after it was warned that all but one of the 48 victims’ families could be excluded.

Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain has urged the government to ensure the inquiry goes ahead as he warned 47 of the families may not participate amid a row over promised free legal aid.

The government has allocated 8 million euro for what is the third inquiry into the 1981 tragedy at the north Dublin nightclub which claimed 48 lives.

Mr O Riordain told the Dáil: “Nobody, certainly not me, wants an unseemly political row over what is an intensely traumatic and sensitive issue.

“The families, however, feel the funding has not been made available to their satisfaction.

“There is the potential for 47 families not to be involved in the inquest if things continue as they currently stand.”

A fresh inquest is being held after former attorney general Seamus Woulfe ruled it should take place in the public interest.

More than 800 people attended the disco at the popular venue and despite two previous inquiries into the disaster, nobody has ever been held responsible.

Mr O Riordain urged the government to “ensure this inquest can continue and that we will not have any cloud hanging over it”.

He added: “We all want an inquest to begin and the truth to be found in good faith on all sides.

“What we do not want is to have a row over money, because money really is irrelevant when you consider the list of people who should still be alive today.

“All of them were young enough to be alive today. I ask the Minister of State, deputy James Browne, to make that case and for this to be resolved.”

Mr Browne, filling in for Minister of State at the Department of Justice Hildegarde Naughton, said the government is committed “to ensuring that the Stardust inquests and the families involved are provided with all relevant supports”.

He said: “In this regard, extensive work has already been undertaken. government funding of up to 8 million euro has been allocated for the new inquests.

“This funding will help to provide free legal aid for the families concerned.

“I agree with the deputy that nobody wants to be having rows over funding and I will bring the deputy’s comments and sentiments to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, when she returns.

“Extensive work has already been undertaken. I understand that work will continue and the Legal Aid Board will continue to engage with the legal representatives of the families.

“Understandably, this is an extremely sensitive and tragic situation. I will bring the deputy’s concerns to the attention of the Minister of State.”

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan said the justice department is “shifting the goalposts”.

Ms Boylan accused the department of reneging on a written commitment to the legal team representing 46 of the families.

Speaking in the Seanad, she said: “It now appears that the Department of Justice are trying to wash their hands of the fact that they gave that written confirmation to the legal team and the families they represent, and are saying that it is now up to the Legal Aid Board and the lawyers to once again negotiate and thrash this out.

“Today we have a statement from the minister, saying that they will put in place 8 million to ‘help’ cover the costs of the inquest.

“Now that’s a significant move and shift in position from what we were told when the inquest was granted.

“I have to say I’m absolutely disgusted by the minister and the Department of Justice in how they have treated the families of the Stardust fire.

“I have to ask the question once again, why is it that the State continuously forces these families to go through the mill in order to get the answers to what happened to their loved ones on that night in 1981?”

A sixth pre-inquest hearing is scheduled to take place on October 13.

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