No grounds for another Stardust Tragedy investigation, says Justice Minister

The Justice Minister has told the Dáil that there are no grounds for another investigation into the Stardust Tragedy.

48 young people died in the 1981 nightclub fire - but the cause of the blaze has never been established.

A committee of victims' families is demanding a full commission of inquiry.

They've rejected a recent review by Judge Pat McCartan that found there was no new evidence to warrant another investigation.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said there is nothing more the Government can do.

"The Government has fulfilled its commitment in relation to assessing the new evidence. Accordingly, it does not believe any further investigation will provide the answers the committee is seeking," he said.

    Full transcript of statement by Minister for Justice and Equality on Stardust Assessment

    The Stardust fire of February 14th, 1981 was without doubt one of the greatest tragedies which has ever occurred in this State. Forty-eight young people went out that evening to enjoy a night out with friends and, as a result of this horrific tragedy, they never came home. Their families have sought answers, and understandably so. Unfortunately, the subsequent Keane Tribunal did not give them the answers they needed. It reached a conclusion that the fire was “probably started deliberately". However, this was just one of a series of hypotheses proposed by the Tribunal and should not have been elevated to the status of a conclusion, a point that Judge McCartan makes clear in his assessment report.

    The Coffey report identified a way that the public record could be corrected by removing the conclusion that arson was the probable cause of the Stardust fire and this was done by way of a Motion in this House. This was a very important step in removing the stigma that the families believed hung over the victims of the tragic fire. I will return to these issues in a few moments, but first I would like to set out the actions that this Government has taken to facilitate the investigation of the evidence the Committee wished to be assessed. The 'Programme for a Partnership Government' which was agreed in 2016, committed the Government to have full regard to "...any new evidence which emerges which would be likely to definitively establish the cause of the fire at Stardust".

    Throughout 2016, there was extensive correspondence between the Stardust Victims’ Committee and the nominated official from my Department with a view to establishing whether any new evidence existed which would be likely to definitively establish the cause of the fire at Stardust, without being able to reach an agreed position. A motion was subsequently passed by this House on the 26th of January 2017, calling on the Government "... to meet with the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims Committee regarding the new and updated evidence they have uncovered since reviewing Judge Keane’s Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin in 2006, to have that new and updated evidence assessed urgently by an independent person who has the trust of the families.

    If the independent assessment confirms the existence of new evidence, calls on the Government to immediately establish a Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy of 1981." The Committee identified retired Judge Pat McCartan as an independent person who had their trust, following which officials from my Department contacted Judge McCartan to ascertain his interest or otherwise in taking on the role of assessing the new evidence. Judge McCartan expressed a desire to assist by taking on this role and was appointed by the Government on 7 March 2017.

    The assessment process was governed by the Dáil Motion and was conducted by Judge McCartan completely independently of Government. The scope of the assessment process tasked Judge McCartan to:

  • To meet with the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims Committee regarding any new and updated evidence they have uncovered;
  • To assess any new and updated evidence that has been identified;
  • To seek submissions from any party identified in or directly affected by that evidence;
  • To recommend, within 90 days of this process commencing, whether, in the circumstances, the evidence identified is sufficient to warrant establishing a Commission of Investigation into the Stardust Tragedy of 1981.
  • Judge McCartan began his work on 27 March 2017 and he was provided with the discretion to afford the Committee whatever representation he believed was necessary in order for the Committee to present its evidence to the assessment process. The relevant daily rates payable were set by my Department and costs were borne by the Exchequer. The requirement for representation was to be assessed by the Judge dependent on the nature of the evidence to be presented to him. The Committee decided that their case would be presented by its researcher who produced the Committee’s submission to Judge McCartan and costs were paid at a Junior Counsel rate. The Committee also sought and were paid costs for its legal advisor.

    It was envisaged that Judge McCartan would conclude his assessment process within 90 days. At that time, the intention was that the assessment process should commence at the earliest possible opportunity, particularly given the commitment in the Dáil Motion for the assessment to take place “urgently”. Judge McCartan confirmed his availability to begin his work immediately, however the Committee chose not to engage with the Judge until 3 May 2017 and did not present its submission to the Judge until 6 July 2017. The reasons for these delays on the part of the Committee related to the issue of historical monies they believed they were owed.

    On that issue, officials in my Department met and corresponded with the Committee and its advisors over the course of a number of months. These discussions were conducted separately to the independent Stardust assessment process, as the issue of historical monies does not fall within the scope of the assessment process.

    This matter and an additional matter involving ‘breach of copyright’ claims were eventually referred to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office by my Department following contact with that office by solicitors acting for the Committee in the first instance. My Department subsequently consulted with the CSSO and also with the Office of the Attorney General in relation to these matters. These matters have since been pursued directly by the CSSO, acting as my Department’s legal advisor, and the legal advisors for the Committee. A settlement meeting between the respective legal teams took place on 3rd October 2017 without reaching agreement. Most recently, at a further settlement meeting between legal advisors for both parties earlier this week, unfortunately a final agreement could not be reached.

    As a result of these issues, there was a significant delay around the submission of the Committee’s evidence to Judge McCartan; the Judge did not receive the submission within the anticipated 90-day period. Accordingly, it was necessary to extend Judge McCartan’s appointment by 4 months to provide the Judge with sufficient time to assess the Committee’s submission, when it was forthcoming, on 6 July, and produce the assessment report. My Department obtained sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure to extend Judge McCartan’s appointment to ensure the completion of the independent assessment process.

    The Deputies will be aware that Judge McCartan's Stardust Assessment represents the third assessment of evidence associated with the Stardust fire. The first assessment was the original Tribunal of Investigation chaired by Mr Justice Keane in 1981. The second assessment was an independent examination of the Committee's case for a re-opened inquiry and was carried out by Mr Paul Coffey in 2008, culminating in the production of a revised report in January 2009.In order to establish whether the evidence presented by the Committee to Judge McCartan constituted new or updated evidence, it was necessary for Judge McCartan to consider the Keane and Coffey reports and their associated conclusions.

    The Keane Tribunal concluded that the fire was “probably started deliberately". However, as I indicated previously, this was just one of a series of hypotheses proposed by the Tribunal and should not have been elevated to the status of a conclusion.The independent Coffey review concluded that the Keane Tribunal did not reveal any evidence to support its conclusion that the fire was started deliberately and, as such, Keane's finding was deemed to be only a hypothesis. The Coffey review also concluded that neither the Committee nor the Keane Tribunal identified any evidence which established the actual cause of the fire.

    Judge McCartan’s report clarified the differences between the Coffey Review report’s first and final versions, given that the Committee expressed the view that there were “dramatic” differences between the two versions of the Coffey Review report. The Committee contended that the first version of the Coffey Review report recommended a public enquiry, whereas the final version does not. Judge McCartan identified that 27 paragraphs of the first version of the Coffey Review report were changed, when compared with the final version of the report, however most of the changes noted were minor re-wordings. The main difference between the two versions of the Coffey Review report, highlighted by Judge McCartan, was that the Government at that time identified a way to correct the public record established by the Keane Tribunal and requested that this solution be included in the final version of the Coffey Review report. The Judge emphasised that the Coffey Review did not recommend a new enquiry into the Stardust tragedy without qualification, i.e. only if it was not possible to correct the public record arising from the Keane Tribunal.

    Following a consideration of the Committee’s submission, Judge McCartan identified 17 issues that required examination. According to the Judge, only one of these issues could be considered as new or updated evidence. However, he held that the issue concerned does not explain the cause of the fire and merely proposes a hypothesis. As such, Judge McCartan’s report concludes: "Having considered all the material submitted by the Committee, there is no new or updated evidence disclosed in the meaning of the terms of this Assessment and no new enquiry is warranted".

    Judge McCartan informed my Department that he was in receipt of additional, late material from the Committee after he had already concluded his report. The Judge wrote to the Committee, confirming that he twice asked the Committee for any further evidence to be submitted but never received a response. Despite having completed his report, Judge McCartan looked at the additional material sent to him. The Judge subsequently informed my Department that this additional material did not constitute new evidence. As a result, the Judge’s report finding stands.I would like to say that I sympathise greatly with the Committee, and all affected families, for the terrible loss they have suffered, and in relation to their ongoing search for answers, over many years. The programme on RTÉ this week was another reminder of the unspeakable grief suffered by the family members.

    I met with the Committee yesterday and I understand that the Committee is disappointed with the outcome of the independent assessment process. I acknowledge that Judge McCartan’s report does not provide the outcome that the Committee was seeking, in finding that no Commission of Investigation is warranted.

    However, the Government complied fully with the Dáil Motion in January to provide for the establishment of the assessment process. The assessment process was conducted completely independently of Government in line with the Dáil Motion. Judge McCartan interpreted the scope of his independent process within the parameters of the Dáil Motion. It was not open to me as Minister, nor my Department, to interfere with that process or direct the Judge in any respect.

    Judge McCartan’s assessment report was formally submitted to my Department on 17 October 2017. The report was considered by my Department and was sent to the Office of the Attorney General for advices. I brought the report to the Cabinet meeting on 7 November 2017, following receipt of those advices. The report was accepted by the Government and furnished to the Committee immediately afterwards, prior to publication.

    I published the report later on 7 November and also laid the report before the Houses of the Oireachtas on the same date, in view of the fact that the assessment process was initiated on foot of a Dáil Motion. I would like to express, again, my gratitude to Judge McCartan for the work he undertook in preparing his report. I am grateful to him for his willingness to undertake this important public service. Judge McCartan indicated in his assessment that the grief experienced by the families “…must be compounded by the failure of anyone to explain the cause of the fire. Due to the passing of time it is much harder today to find such an explanation and this Assessment must conclude that the cause of the fire may never be known.”

    The Government has fulfilled its commitment in relation to assessing the new evidence and does not believe that any further investigation will provide the answers that the Committee is looking for. Before I conclude, I would like, once again, to sympathise with the Committee and all of the families affected by the Stardust fire. I understand that each of you will never forget this terrible tragedy and will carry heart-breaking loss and memories with you for the rest of your lives.


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