Stardust families not advised over inquiry’s terms of reference

THE Government was last night criticised for failing to make the terms of reference for an independent inquiry known to families of Stardust victims and their legal representatives.

During leader’s questions in the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the Government had hoped to conclude discussions on the terms of reference a “short time ago or shortly” and had been endeavouring to do so for some weeks.

“I don’t think there is blame on either side on the matter of trying to get agreement,” said Mr Ahern

“My officials have already suggested an eminent legal person. They have suggested terms of references. We want an agreement on both. We have suggested somebody. That name was rejected, somebody who has done a number of inquiries for the State. I don’t think they will agree to that person.”

However, the solicitor representing bereaved families of the Stardust tragedy, Greg O’Neill, insisted last night that he had notreceived a draft version of the terms of reference or a list of possible judges orsenior counsel to oversee the examination.

Mr O’Neill said he had sought details on February 9 and again yesterday, but had been informed by Government officials that the Attorney General would have to first approve the terms of reference.

However, the Taoiseach yesterday told the Dáil that the terms of reference have been ready for “some considerable time”.

“They [the Stardust families] are emotive people. It’s difficult. I do my very best to deal with them and the various groups of them. I’ve given them the resources for their legal representatives. I’ve gone through thetrauma that they’ve gone through in dealing with the exhumations,” he said.

“What I don’t want to do is put out a term of reference and five minutes later to have somebody on saying, before they even read them that they are against it. I’m trying to get agreement on this so that we have closure. Otherwise it will go on forever.”

Mr Ahern said he was confident that the arrangements for the examination would be settled in the coming days, followed by the appointment of an eminent legal person.

“There is no new evidence on this. What we have is a different interpretation,” he said.

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte asked why details of the external independent examination had not been made available to the Stardust Victims’ Committee or why the terms of reference had not been published.

“There are a number of legitimate questions unanswered about the tragedy that befell their community and about what actually happened on the night,” Mr Rabbitte said.

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