Nightclub fears – Safety rules must be enforced

After every public disaster there is inevitably an outcry and safety standards are tightened until complacency again sets in with the passage of time.

The Stardust disaster, in which 48 young people died in a nightclub fire in Artane, Dublin, in February 1981, was one of the worst disasters in the history of the State.

Very few of the people frequenting nightclubs today will remember what happened on that fateful night in Artane nearly a quarter of a century ago. In addition to the horror of the lives of so many young people snuffed out, there was the enduring agony of their families. Nobody was ever held responsible for the negligence involved, but the taxpayers were, as usual, saddled with the cost of what was essentially an inconclusive judicial tribunal.

Gordon Holmes the chairman of the Liquor Licensing Commission set up to improve the drinks industry and tackle the underage drinking problem warns of the danger of another Stardust disaster, because safety standards are being ignored in relation to over crowding in nightclubs. There is no control over the number of people being admitted.

When the Liquor Licensing Commission presented its final report over a year ago, it virtually ignored the recommendations of its own chairman. This was due to bureaucratic infighting between representatives of the various government departments, coupled with the inordinate influence that the liquor trade had on the commission.

Surely it was not too much for the public to expect that such a commission would have been more interested in the safety of consumers than the commercial interests of those running the clubs.

The problem is not just that the safety standards are not being enforced; nobody seems to know for sure who should enforce them. The Fire Officers' Association suggests that the gardaí are responsible, because nightclub licences are issued by the District Court.

The Department of Justice, on the other hand, insists that the whole thing is the responsibility of the Fire Offices who come under aegis of Department of the Environment.

The Fire Officers make safety checks during the day and at night in Dublin, but they say that they do not have the resources to inspect nightclubs while they are operating outside the capital.

In most businesses people work when they are needed, but it seems that the Fire Officers have decided that they will not stagger their working hours to work when they are needed, unless they are paid extra. They are holding the youth of the country hostage to get their way.

The Department of Environment states that Minister Martin Cullen is setting up a new Fire Authority with plans to modernise the service, but the Department would not specify what it plans to do about vital inspections outside Dublin at night. In the light of the outrageous messing by the Department of Environment in relation to electronic voting, not to mention the whole Government's pathetic performance in implementing its promises, the public is unlikely to be assured by the latest pronouncement from the Department of Environment.

This is a problem that needs to be tackled immediately; rather than waiting for next disaster to anger public opinion so that something will have to be done.

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