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Families of Stardust victims to be given legal aid, paving the way for new inquests into disaster to begin

The inquests will examine the deaths of the 48 people who died in the Stardust fire in 1981.

Image: Sam Boal

THE INQUESTS INTO the deaths of 48 people in the Stardust disaster are a step closer to getting under way, after new regulations to allow the families of victims to access legal aid were signed by the Minister for Justice.

The inability of some families to access legal aid was delaying the start of the inquests, which were first ordered by the Attorney General in September 2019.

The fire in the Stardust club in Artane, north Dublin in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1981 was one of the worst fire disasters in modern Irish history. 

48 people lost their lives, while over 200 were injured.

Families have long campaigned for new inquiries into the deaths of their loved ones, and have expressed hope that the new inquests could proceed swiftly.

However, the issue surrounding legal aid for the families had delayed the inquests getting underway for several months.

In a statement this evening, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Heather Humphreys confirmed that she had signed the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2021, which would allow all families of Stardust victims to access legal aid regardless of their means.

The Department of Justice also encouraged families to engage with the Legal Aid Board as soon as possible if they wish to receive legal aid.

At a hearing in March, solicitor Darragh Mackin – who represents most of the families – told the court that some of the families had either income or capital that meant they didn’t qualify for this legal aid. 

Under the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, the Minister for Justice could bring in regulations to specify instances where the Legal Aid Board could waive this financial requirement. 

However, such regulations have not yet been enacted over 25 years since this legislation was introduced, Mackin said. 

“We’re left in the hands of further delay because of regulations that should have been brought in years ago,” he said. 

Mackin added: “On foot of that, it’s become clear that this is a further bump in the road. It’s deeply regrettable.”

At the last hearing, Mackin told coroner Dr Myra Cullinane that it was hoped that the issue could be sorted as soon as possible so that the inquests could proceed in a timely manner. 

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan and Social Democrat TD Cian O’Callaghan were among politicians urging the government to address the issue as quickly as possible so that the inquests could proceed.

The resolution of the legal aid problem means that inquests into the disaster can now get underway.

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Coroners throughout the country are in a position to schedule public inquests as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

The government has allocated funding of up to €8m for the new inquests, including legal aid for families.

A bespoke courtroom has been specifically built in the RDS for the Stardust inquests, and remote hearing technology will allow them to be undertaken safely.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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