Human rights court questions state over Stardust inquiries

THE European Court of Human Rights has asked the state to respond to several questions over its handling of official investigations into the Stardust fire tragedy.

Relatives of victims of the fire, which killed 48 people after it engulfed the nightclub in Artane, Dublin, on February 13, 1981, are taking a case against the state before the court.

They claim their relatives’ rights were breached under the European Convention on Human Rights as a result of successive governments’ failure to carry out an effective, independent and prompt investigation. The group also claims that there was insufficient public scrutiny and insufficient involvement of victims in any of the official inquiries. They also claim there was not adequate punishment of people and institutions responsible for the deaths of the Stardust victims.

They also criticised the original tribunal headed by former chief justice Ronan Keane, as well as an independent review of that inquiry completed in 2009 by barrister Paul Coffey.

The group’s members, which consists of parents whose children died in the Stardust tragedy, are Bridget McDermott, Elizabeth Bissett, Christine Keegan and Edward and Patricia Kennedy.

The applicants claim the finding of the original tribunal established by the Government that the fire was caused by arson — subsequently discredited by the Coffey review — effectively excluded them from taking a civil action for negligence against the owners of the ballroom, the Butterly family.

Furthermore, such a finding facilitated the award of €581,000 in damages to the owners of the Stardust under a claim for malicious damage taken against the state. Compensation awards to 823 survivors of the fire paid under a special compensation tribunal averaged just over £12,700 each.

The Strasbourg-based ECHR has now asked the Government to comment on the effectiveness of any investigation which had been conducted into the cause of the fire. It has also questioned the Government over the lack of administrative, disciplinary, civil and criminal proceedings against both state officials and the owners of the Stardust Ballroom given criticisms made against them set out in both the original tribunal report, which was published in 1982, and the Coffey Review.

Last night, Ms Keegan’s daughter, Antoinette, who survived the fire which claimed the lives of her two sisters, Mary and Martina, welcomed the clarification being sought by the ECHR. “We want an acknowledgement that the rights of the victims of the Stardust fire have been ignored for the past 30 years. We haven’t got that from successive Irish governments which is why we have taken this case to Europe. Hopefully, it will help us bring closure to our fight for justice.”

It is understood that the state has been given until October to reply to the ECHR, after which it will decide if the case should proceed to a full hearing.

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