DÁIL SPEECH DURING LEADERS QUESTIONS ON THE STARDUST TRAGEDY

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I warmly congratulate our wonderful football team for their outstanding victory last night and I wish them well in Lyon on Sunday.

Last Valentine’s Day, during the general election campaign, was the 35th anniversary of the horrific Stardust nightclub fire in which 48 young people, mainly teenagers, died and more than 200 young people, mainly citizens in my constituency, were seriously injured. Over the past 35 years, the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims Committee, courageously led by Ms Antoinette Keegan, Ms Chrissie Keegan and Ms Gertrude Barrett, has fought for justice for the victims and the families. The committee has been in contact with the Tánaiste many times in her capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality.

The Keane tribunal report in 1982 severely criticised Paddy and Eamon Butterly, the owner and manager of the Stardust, for their reckless disregard for the safety of the people on the premises but its conclusion of arson outraged the communities on the north side of the city. Despite Justice Keane’s severe criticism of the Butterlys and Dublin Corporation and a huge file being sent to An Garda Síochána, no prosecution was ever taken against the owners or Dublin Corporation. Since the late 1990s, the conclusions of the Keane tribunal have been systematically demolished by the finding of new and unassessed evidence. In 2001, for example, a brilliant investigation called “They Never Came Home”, after the song by Christy Moore, carried out by Tony McCullough, editor of
Northside People, and his colleague, Neil Fetherstonhaugh, found that there were major deficiencies in the electrical and heating systems of the building and eyewitness accounts which had not been taken into account during the Keane investigation. A number of “Prime Time” programmes on the 20th and 25th anniversary of the fire also seriously undermined the credibility of the Keane tribunal. A distinguished local northside scientist, Ms Geraldine Foy, also carried out a detailed investigation in 2004 and collated new decisive evidence. She found the existence of a first floor store room full of flammable cleaning liquids, of which the Keane tribunal appeared to be completely unaware.

Based on some of those discoveries, I called for a new commission of investigation on the 25th anniversary in 2006. I am renewing that call today. In July 2008, the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who lived across the road from the nightclub, appointed Mr. Paul Coffey to carry out a study of the papers of the Keane tribunal and to look again at the evidence. Although Mr. Coffey’s report exonerated the young people in that it found that arson was not the cause, Mr. Coffey did not ask for a new commission of investigation. However, he said in his draft report that he accepted that a new inquiry was necessary. During the 2011 general election campaign the Taoiseach, accompanied by former Deputy Terence Flanagan, gave a commitment to the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims Committee that there would be a new commission of investigation but over the past five years, the former Minister for Justice and Equality, former Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Tánaiste have stonewalled on this. The Tánaiste can bring closure to this matter, just as happened in the case of the Widgery report and the Hillsborough disaster. She can ease the awful pain that hundreds of families in my constituency have suffered for the past 35 years.

The Tánaiste: As the Deputy is aware, I have met with members of the Stardust victims committee and heard their concerns about how this tragedy has been investigated. There have been a number of reports to date. I have put in place a process in the Department of Justice and Equality whereby the committee can liaise directly and intensively with officials in the Department who have given a huge amount of time to this issue over recent months. The reason we have done that is to ensure that a comprehensive submission outlining all of the material the committee wishes to have considered in this regard is brought forward. Significant progress has been made in that process and I hope the committee continues to engage with it.

The programme for Government contains a commitment that full regard will be had for any new evidence that can definitively prove the cause of the Stardust fire and I am committed to working with the families should they wish to continue to engage with us on this process. In the course of the engagement, they are bringing forward a range of matters relating to the cause of the fire and also relating to support for the work of the committee which they have identified and which they feel they were not given previously. The committee brought forward a range of issues, and I will not go into detail about them now, relating to support from the Government for the work of the committee.

We are certainly committed to continuing to engage in the process. If evidence emerges that the Government and committee are convinced is new evidence, we can progress it further. That work is ongoing.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: There is a motion in the name of Independents 4 Change, our group and AAA-PBP before the House that I think has widespread support. I remember Deputy McDonald standing beside me at the 35th anniversary commemoration. There is widespread support for the Government to put its name to that motion and set up the commission.

Over the years, I have heard the mantra about new evidence from the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and the Tánaiste. Surely the litany of private investigations and outstanding investigations by journalists, some of whom I mentioned, such as Rita O’Reilly of RTE, and others, have over the years created a category of new evidence that was not assessed at the time and was not brought to the attention of the Keane tribunal. There were deficiencies in the forensic examination by An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, so it seems to me that this mantra does not work anymore.

I mentioned the Widgery report and Hillsborough. There seems to be a great reluctance on the part of this Government and previous Governments to review the work of a tribunal but Tony Blair set up the Saville inquiry, which brought forward its report in 2010 that exonerated the people of Derry in respect of the whitewash of the Widgery report. We know about the long struggle of the families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough to get justice. A new inquest was held a few months ago which produced a verdict of unlawful killing. Antoinette Keegan and her colleagues have carried on a very similar struggle for justice and deserve a similar response from the Government. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, who is sitting beside the Tánaiste, represents the area, as does the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, also represents the area.

An Ceann Comhairle: We need to conclude.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I ask for their support. This seems to have been one of the greatest cover ups in Irish history.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy’s time has elapsed.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I received a lot of support in this regard from my former party, starting with the former leader of the party, Dick Spring. Former Deputy, Pat Rabbitte, called it a case of corporate manslaughter and spoke about the possibility of unlawful killing. I ask the Tánaiste to set up a commission of investigation to bring closure to the families.

An Ceann Comhairle: I regret to inform Members that a minute is a minute, notwithstanding the enormity of the issue raised by the Deputy. Could I plead with Members to abide by the clock?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I never before had the opportunity to be a Leader.

An Ceann Comhairle: May he have many opportunities in the future.

The Tánaiste: I recognise what the Deputy said about previous injustices. One should always look at the evidence, have an open mind and not rule out the possibility of a further inquiry or commission of investigation in appropriate circumstances. That is why we have been engaging with the committee over recent months analysing very carefully and taking very seriously the evidence it is presenting to see whether the evidence would lead to a further investigation. It is being looked at very seriously but I think the Deputy would agree with me that given that a previous Government asked for a second report and received a very detailed report that drew certain conclusions, one must consider it very carefully. Obviously, we are all aware of the scale of the tragedy but we are engaged with the committee and will continue to be. The programme for a partnership Government says that if there is new evidence, the issue can be considered and looked at again.