‘Department did not block earlier inquiry’ into Stardust, says Justice dept

The Department of Justice has insisted it did not block a fresh inquiry into the Stardust tragedy as far back as 2009.

‘Department did not block earlier inquiry’ into Stardust, says Justice dept

Last night, officials maintained the department did not seek the removal of a recommendation for a new inquiry into the fire from a Government-sponsored report by a leading lawyer.

The insistence comes as the Government agreed to ask a former criminal judge to assess whether new evidence from the victims’ families merits a State Commission of Inquiry, thus avoiding the resignation of Minister Finian McGrath.

The families of the 1981 Stardust fire victims will have an effective veto over who is appointed to review their new evidence.

But the 2009 report, compiled by then senior counsel and now High Court judge Paul Coffey, has come back into focus.

He initially found that a “new inquiry is necessary if it is the only way of placing on the public record a finding that is based on evidence”.

However, over 70 alterations to the initial report were made and ultimately, he recommended against a new inquiry in the published version.

The discovery of the earlier draft of the Coffey report, by way of a Freedom of Information request, is one of the cornerstones of the Stardust families’ case for a new inquiry and will be one of the main elements to be examined by the judge.

The Dáil, during a debate last night, heard accusations that the Coffey report was “watered down”. Several TDs said the discovery of the earlier draft by itself is enough to justify the establishment of a new inquiry.

Last night, a spokesman for Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said “no specific departmental meeting took place and records do not exist” to show the department called for the report to be changed.

Following the agreement being secured, Mr McGrath said that the agreed process is a major step forward in delivering justice for the families.

“We are looking for an independent judge, someone with a criminal background and that person must have the trust of the families. We have guaranteed them a say in the process,” he said.

“Veto is a very strong word, but trust is key and we can’t move without the trust and confidence of the families. So some may see it like that, we have to guarantee the trust of the families.”

The counter-motion also commits the Government to meeting with the families.

Mr McGrath had threatened to resign if he did not get satisfaction on this issue.

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