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Stardust fire: Legal aid funding issue is resolved, clearing path for inquests to get under way

A legal aid logjam for family members of victims meant that the inquests could have been significantly delayed.

Families marked the 40th anniversary of the Stardust fire earlier this month.
Families marked the 40th anniversary of the Stardust fire earlier this month.
Image: Leon Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

A FUNDING ISSUE relating to the provision of legal aid that was delaying the beginning of the Stardust fire inquests has been resolved. 

It’s understood that the Department of Justice yesterday agreed to process the legal aid provision for the team representing the majority of the 48 victims of the Stardust fire.

The government had been urged to address the delay, which emerged earlier this month, after legal aid was previously approved for the families by coroner Dr Myra Cullinane.

The families’ legal team had repeatedly written to the Department of Justice in an attempt to resolve the issue, and have the department release funds to allow the legal team conduct research and instruct barristers ahead of the inquest hearings. 

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan, who has long campaigned alongside families of the Stardust victims, described it today as “very welcome news” which will come as a “huge relief to families”. 

Earlier this month, families and survivors marked the 40th anniversary of the fire in the Stardust club in north Dublin

48 young people lost their lives in the blaze, and over 200 people were injured. The average age of the deceased was just 19 with most of them from the nearby areas of Artane, Coolock and Edenmore.

Families of the victims have long campaign for fresh inquiries into the deaths of their loved ones and, in September 2019, the Attorney General ordered that new inquests be undertaken. 

They had been due to get under way in the RDS early in 2021, but the legal aid logjam for legal counsel for the families has delayed the commencement of proceedings.

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, who represents 46 of the families, said that the usual process for an inquest would be for legal counsel to receive a fee for each deceased person who is represented at an inquest hearing. 

Mackin said that because of the scale of these inquests, this would escalate legal costs significantly and that his team had made a proposal to the the Department of Justice in this regard that would cost less than the usual system. 

“We have received no response,” he said earlier this month. “It’s frustrating for families waiting for these inquests to get under way.”

This delay meant that Mackin hadn’t been able to instruct barristers on behalf of the families until this point. 

The opposition has urged the government to resolve the issue, including Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Social Democrat Cian O’Callaghan.

Now that the issue has been resolved, it paves the way for the inquests to get under way in the coming months. 

It’s understood that the families’ legal team has sought an urgent pre-inquest hearing with the coroner with a view to finalising a date for the inquests to formally begin. 

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Boylan added: “It should never have come to this and I hope the Department of Justice have learned from the experience. Their dithering has caused real hurt to the families.

“What needs to happen now is for the inquest to proceed as a matter of urgency. There can be no further delays.”

The Department of Justice has been contacted for comment. 

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Sean Murray

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