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Government delay in publishing Stardust report unforgivable – Ó Snodaigh

3 February, 2009 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, speaking in the Dáil this afternoon on the Stardust tragedy, said the fact that the families of the victims had to stage a three day sit in outside Government Buildings in order to force the Government to publish the latest report into the tragedy is typical of the treatment they have received from this and successive Governments.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "This month 28 years ago Ireland witnessed the worst fire disaster in the history of the state. The inferno in the Stardust disco cost the lives of 48 young people. It caused horrific injuries to many others and devastated the working class communities affected. While 48 lost their lives as a direct consequence of the fire, the pain and suffering which would give rise to poor health and mental anguish was to continue on for a far greater number, compounded as it was by government and legal inaction in the following years.

"The fact that family members had to stage a three day sit-in outside government buildings last month in order to force government movement on the publication of the latest report on the fire has been typical of their treatment. The survivors and the victims' families were forced to fight hard for justice for their loved ones. From the fight for compensation to the fight for a commemorative park, they have had to battle every step of the way.

"The findings of the original 1982 Tribunal of Inquiry into the Stardust fire were contradictory. It concluded both: (a) there was no evidence of an accidental origin to the fire and equally no evidence that the fire was started deliberately and; (b) the probable cause of the fire was arson. The unsubstantiated and inconsistent latter finding, which was always contested by the families has, now been decisively dismissed by the independent examination commissioned by the government and published last month.

"It was the unsound conclusion of probable arson that paved the way for the owners of Stardust, the Butterly's, to successfully sue the tax payer for £600,000 for malicious damage. The profit hungry pub owners and management were responsible for an extremely dangerous policy of locking and chaining the emergency exits and they placed steel plates over numerous windows all of which grossly impeded emergency exit. They continued this policy despite receiving notices from Dublin corporation demanding that it cease in advance of the fire. As noted by the administrator of the mayor's emergency relief fund in a television interview the victims of the fire were predominantly working class and many were in financially vulnerable situations. It would be several years after the payout to the Butterly's before the victims of the fire achieved their compensation.

"To date no one has been held liable or accountable for the devastating loss of life in the Stardust. One can't help but suspect that had this tragedy occurred in a nite-club frequented by patrons from wealthier backgrounds then the government response to the victims and the legal repercussions for recklessly negligent owners and management might have been very different.

"Coffee's categorical finding that there is no evidence of arson finally opens the door to legal cases by the families.

"Coffee has also recommended that a structure be put in place to ensure that outstanding needs for counselling and medical treatment are met. The fact that such a basic necessity as this should have to be spelt out to government 28 years on from the fire is an indictment of this government's, and previous government's, unforgivable abandonment of the victims and their families. In 2001 a fire broke out in a pub in the Netherlands killing 14 people and injuring 300. The Dutch authorities put all questions of legal liability to the side and instantly made £18 million available for social and psychological care for the victims. As a state and as a society we should be judged on how we meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. The shameful treatment of all those who were devastated by the Stardust disaster is evidence that we have a very long way to go." ENDS

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