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Minister urged to take action on 'indefensible' delay preventing start of Stardust inquests

Solicitor Darragh Mackin and Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan have written to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on the issue.

File photo. Damien Keegan, who lost two sisters Mary and Martina in the fire, at the site earlier this year.
File photo. Damien Keegan, who lost two sisters Mary and Martina in the fire, at the site earlier this year.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE MINISTER FOR Justice has been urged to sign regulations that would clear the way for some of the families of victims of the Stardust fire to access legal aid.

This inability to access legal aid is delaying the start of the fresh inquests into 48 deaths at the Stardust club in north Dublin in February 1981.

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan, who has campaigned with families for the last number of years, accused the government of “poor faith” and said it was “indefensible” to wait any longer.

The fresh inquests were first ordered by the Attorney General in late-2019 but, so far, only a few pre-inquest hearings have taken place.

So far this year, funding issues have delayed proceedings as families have not been able to access legal aid to have representation at these inquests. 

At a hearing last month, 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.”

The Department of Justice told The Journal last month that the Minister was aware of the difficulties, and has asked the Attorney General’s office and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to arrange for the “urgent” drafting of new regulations under the Civil Legal Act 1995. 

“The Minister hopes to be in a position to bring regulations into effect as soon as possible, and would reiterate her commitment to resolving these matters for the benefit of the Stardust families,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said in late March.

However, to-date, these regulations have not yet been signed and the inquests appear no closer to getting under way. 

Both Mackin and Sinn Féin’s Boylan have written to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee urging her to take action on the issue.

Boylan said: “The government repeatedly gave commitments to the families that there would be no barrier to accessing justice and that the costs of the inquest would be provided, yet now we have the situation where families are being means tested.  

These barriers to accessing justice have brought back all the memories of how families were threatened with losing their homes if they sought justice for their loved ones. 40 years waiting for justice is too long. 
I want to commend the Stardust families for their courageous pursuit of justice. It is indefensible that this justice is still denied to them.

“The government must listen to the families and act urgently to resolve this. I will continue to push this with the Minister until the necessary steps are taken.”

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In a statement, a Department of Justice spokesperson said: “The Department is actively investigating the position and engaging with the Attorney General’s Office to explore possible mechanisms to provide for legal aid to the very small number of families who do not meet the financial eligibility requirements under the Act and expects to be in a position to provide more information shortly.”

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Sean Murray

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