State archives: Taoiseach’s office wanted to avoid Stardust compensation, records reveal

The Taoiseach’s department wanted to wash its hands of compensation claims for victims of the Stardust fire disaster over fears it would be chaotic and controversial, State papers have revealed.

State archives: Taoiseach’s office wanted to avoid Stardust compensation, records reveal

In a Government memo from October 3, 1985, officials in Garret FitzGerald’s office warned that decisions on payments should be kept “as far as possible” from his desk.

Forty-eight people died in the 1981 St Valentine’s Day fire at the nightclub in Artane, Dublin, and hundreds more were injured with about 300 making claims against the State.

The average payment was IR£12,700.

In the document, released from the Department of the Taoiseach to the National Archives under the 30-year rule, an unnamed official set out the concerns.

“Unless ministerial responsibility for the administration of the new scheme is fixed soon, there will be chaos,” the typed memo read.

It went on to explain the rationale for shifting responsibility away from Mr FitzGerald’s office to another department.

“Since the tribunal is presided over by a High Court judge and since Justice are the department responsible for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, I think they should be the first choice,” the memo said.

“If not, then Environment should be the second choice.

“Essentially, I think that the whole issue, which will involve a lot of detailed work, and could be highly controversial, should be kept as far from this department as possible.”

The Taoiseach announced plans for ex-gratia payments on September 25, 1985, with the compensation tribunal sitting in private.

Victims and relatives could decline the offers but if they accepted they could not subsequently sue the Stardust owners, the Butterlys.

The fire broke out in the early hours of February 14, 1981, with more than 800 people inside. Most of the dead were from Artane, Kilmore, and Coolock.

Investigations discovered some escape routes were hindered as emergency exits had been locked with chains.

The cause of the blaze was originally classed as arson but some families campaigned for years for a new investigation and in 2009 a separate inquiry found there was no evidence the fire was started deliberately.

State archives: 6&7

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