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Calls for urgent resolution to legal fees impasse for Stardust families

Campaigners said this morning that the Department Of Justice has reneged on its “past promises” to pay for work undertaken by their legal representatives.

A campaigner at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the tragedy earlier this year.
A campaigner at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the tragedy earlier this year.

THERE HAVE BEEN calls for an urgent resolution to the impasse over legal aid fees for families of the victims of the 1981 Stardust fire.

Campaigners said this morning that the Department Of Justice has reneged on its “past promises” to ensure their legal team is funded in accordance with rates for such work, adding that the Legal Aid Board has not made any payment to their representatives for work undertaken either.

Fresh inquests into the deaths of the 48 people who died in the Valentine’s disco fire were first ordered in September 2019, following a campaign by families of those who lost loved ones in the tragedy. 

A pre-inquest hearing in June had heard that legal representatives for the victims’ families would be ready by October

This came following an earlier hearing which was told that some of the bereaved families were eligible for legal aid but that others were not.

However the hopes of an October start date have been thrown into doubt by this morning’s statement from the Justice for Stardust 48 group representing bereaved families, which said: 

“The families of the victims have now instructed our legal team to hold off, until all outstanding issues have been resolved with the legal aid funding and the historical costs between the Department of Justice and the Legal Aid Board.”

The group added: “It is totally unacceptable that we should be treated in such [a] disgraceful manner.” 

The legal firm for the families, Phoenix Law, did not respond to requests for comment, while the Department of Justice said it is committed to ensuring that the Stardust inquests and the families involved are provided with all relevant supports.

54 Stardust 40th People attend the 40th anniversary of the Stardust fire. Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

A spokesman added that the Legal Aid Board is engaging with legal representatives “to agree an appropriate funding schedule” for work undertaken, which the department said it supports.  

“Government funding of up to €8m has been allocated for the new inquests, including legal aid for the families and the fit-out of a bespoke courtroom in the RDS,” he said.

The public facing elements of the inquest are expected to commence once the preliminary hearings conclude. The Senior Dublin Coroner has scheduled a sixth pre-inquest hearing to take place on 13 October.

The Legal Aid Board told The Journal that it is “engaged actively with the legal representatives” for the families and said it had no further comment to make.

While October had been earmarked as the start date for the full inquest, campaigners said it is now “postponed” in this morning’s statement.

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However the Dublin District Coroner’s Office indicated the commencement of the inquest may be some way off yet, as it told The Journal that it has “not been finalised”.

Instead, a sixth preliminary hearing for the case will take place on October 13.

Political reaction

Local TDs called for the block around legal fees to be overcome, with Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin saying the State “must pay” the legal fees of the families.

Describing the event as scarring the Northside for a generation, the Dublin Bay North deputy said the families’ pursuit of justice could not be stalled by “unaffordable” legal fees.

“It has been my long held belief that if this occurred in another part of the State, justice would have been reached much earlier. In recognition of the trauma that these families have experienced in the pursuit of justice, the State needs to pay for the legal fees associated with the inquest.”

Social Democrats Dublin Bay North TD Cian O’Callaghan said it needs to be immediately resolved:  “Past promises of legal aid for the Stardust families must be honoured. The new delay in providing this legal aid is totally unacceptable.

“The families who lost loved ones in the Stardust tragedy are yet again being let down and left waiting by the State.”

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