The families of some of the 48 young people who died in the 1981 Stardust fire disaster in Dublin have expressed concerns over a proposed review of new evidence in their campaign for a fresh inquiry.
Forty-eight young people died in the Stardust fire in the early hours of February 14th, 1981. The families had always rejected the finding of the original tribunal which said the cause of the fire was probably arson.
The Stardust Fire was one of the worst disasters in the history of the state but despite political sympathy, a Tribunal of Inquiry and a long campaign for justice, nobody has ever been held accountable for the huge loss of life and terrible injuries.
On Thursday, the Dublin government agreed to appoint a legal expert to review new evidence the families have gathered supporting their call for a new inquiry.
If the review agrees with the families a new inquiry will be established, says the government, but supporters described the move as “kicking the can down the road”.
Sinn Fein’s Dessie Ellis called for the Dublin government to meet the families immediately.
“It is very important that a commission of investigation takes place into the tragedy as there are a number of questions that need to be fully examined,” he said.
“For example, the strong evidence that the fire began in the roof space and other evidence pointing to others culpability have never been properly examined. The logical course of action here is very transparent. The Taoiseach should immediately accede to the request of the Stardust families for him to meet with them. A new independent investigation should be established as quickly as possible.
“Having been a frequent patron to the Stardust at the time as many others across North Dublin, we too want answers to what happened to our neighbours and friends on that fateful night. We as legislations and you as a Government owe that to the 48 people who died and the hundreds injured on that tragic night.”
The families also said the 26 County Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is “confused, lying or being misled by her own officials” after she gave incorrect information about changes made to a December 2008 report on the disaster.
Among the families’ arguments has been that the report of a review by Paul Coffey SC (now Justice Coffey) was dramatically altered between its submission to government in December 2008 and publication in January 2009.
They have now released two letters which they say show Mr Coffey intended his report to be his final take. He had been appointed by the Department of Justice to review evidence gathered by the families seeking a new inquiry.
They say more than 70 changes to the report before its publication in January 2009, which they believe were made at the behest of the then government, “neutered” it.
However, using Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation they obtained a copy of the report Mr Coffey submitted in December 2008, which said a “new inquiry is necessary if it is the only way of placing on the public record a finding that is based on evidence”.
The government has maintained since, that the 2008 report was a “draft” and that Mr Coffey had asked to make changes. However, Mr Coffey’s cover letter and a second letter indicate his examination to have been “completed” at that point.
Antoinette Keegan, who survived the fire but lost her sisters Mary and Martina, said it is “clear the report Mr Coffey submitted in December 2008 was his completed report.
She said Mr Coffey’s letters showed his intention was to recommend a new inquiry, strengthening the families’ call for one. This recommendation is absent from the published report.
“There is no record of any request from him to make changes to it. The one he submitted in December was not a draft. For the minister now to say it was draft shows she is confused, lying or being misled by her own officials”.