Just days ago, the families welcomed the appointment of retired judge Pat McCartan to conduct the review that was agreed in the Dáil in January, with a view to making recommendations as to whether a full-scale public inquiry was warranted.
Howev,er, yesterday, they said in a statement: “It is with regret that the Stardust families have pulled out of the process passed in the Dail on the 25th of January.”
The statement said the families had been informed by the Department of Justice they would have no input in the terms of reference under which Judge McCartan would be working.
They said they had also been told that the considerable expenses incurred by their researchers in compiling the evidence would not be reimbursed. They said this was the opposite of what they had been led to believe when the Dáil debated the subject in January.
Families spokeswoman Antoinette Keegan said they were gutted by the turn of events. “We’re in a limbo situation where the Department of Justice is calling all the shots again,” she said.
“We’re back to square one.”
Forty-eight people died and more than 200 were injured in the Valentine’s Night disco in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, in 1981.
A tribunal chaired by Judge Ronan Keane declared the cause of the fire was probably arson, a finding that was widely discredited and, after 27 years, was formally removed from public record after a review by barrister Paul Coffey.
However, Mr Coffey’s review also became the subject of controversy after it was discovered his original recommendation that a public inquiry was probably justified was removed from the published report, which stated that the cause of the fire could not be known.
The families have been gathering evidence for more than 10 years that they say shows multiple failures and regulatory breaches led to the devastating loss of life.
Ms Keegan, a survivor of the fire, which killed her two sisters, said it was her belief that Judge McCartan would have to consider the recent evidence in isolation from the earlier reports.
“How is the judge going to know what is new evidence if he has not got the Keane Tribunal or the Coffey Review to compare it with? The whole thing is a shambles again,” said Ms Keegan.
The Department of Justice said it was open to meeting the families to discuss their concerns.
“The department is continuing to make every effort to give effect to the Dáil motion passed recently and does not consider it would be helpful to make any further public comment at this time,” it said.
“A further meeting has been proposed and that offer of a meeting still stands, should the Stardust Relatives Victims Committee wish to avail of it.”