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Wednesday 27 September 2023 Dublin: 14°C
Sam Boal Stardust campaigner Antoinette Keegan outside Leinster House this afternoon
# stardust inquest
Stardust campaigners call for jurors to be paid using portion of €8 million budget
The bill was brought forward by Sinn Féin senator Lynn Boylan and will be introduced in the Seanad tomorrow.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 22nd 2022, 7:00 PM

FAMILIES OF VICTIMS of the Stardust tragedy have called for the Government to use funding allocated to the upcoming inquest to pay jurors, due to concerns that selected jurors would be left without an income for an extended period of time.

Stardust campaigner Antoinette Keegan made the call at the launch of a new bill that would allow a jury for the Stardust inquest to be selected in the same manner as a court case.

The bill, which is being brought to the Seanad as a Sinn Féin Private Members Bill by Senator Lynn Boylan, would allow for a jury to be empanelled through the electoral register, rather than being selected by Gardaí.

Concerns were initially raised by the families about the selection of a jury in this manner due to the Gardaí’s involvement in the inquest.

The Stardust nightclub fire broke out on 14 February 1981 and saw 48 young people killed and over 200 people injured.

Last week, the Coroner of the Stardust inquest, Dr Myra Cullinane, ruled that a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’ could not be ruled out before the inquest begins.

Both Boylan and Keegan raised concerns about income protection for those who will sit on the jury.

Under the current inquest legislation, there are no income protection measures for jurors due to inquests typically happening over three or four days.

With the Stardust inquest being the biggest in the history of the state, it is likely to last anywhere from six months to a year.

Boylan said that this is a “huge issue” and that the jury needs to be reflective of wider society and not exclude people from the inquest due to loss of income.

She added that she supported the families’ request that any jury that is empanelled for the inquest should be paid by the State.

Keegan, a prominent Stardust campaigner, said that she raised concerns about the selection of a jury and income protection with Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week during a private meeting at the old Richmond Hospital.

According to Keegan, Martin said that he would examine the proposals and that he would get back to the families, but Keegan said that they have not received an update as of today.

Keegan suggested that the Government allocate money from the Stardust budget, which is €8 million, to pay the jurors who are selected for the inquest.

“There was €8 million put aside in the budget, €2 million of that is gone.

“What we’re saying is what is wrong with the Government allowing the jury to be paid from that budget.

“We want this to go ahead, we want the inquest to happen and we want all the obstacles that’s in our way to be removed so when the inquest is ready to start, that we’re up and running and ready to go.

“There has been too many undue delays.”

Juries bill

Speaking earlier today, Boylan said that under current laws, Gardaí can select jurors for an inquest anywhere and it is possible that the jurors can be known to those taking part in the inquest.

“There is no set process for how they [inquest jury] are selected,” Boylan said, speaking to reporters this afternoon.

“In some cases, the Gardaí can go out onto the street or into workplaces and just ask people to come in and sit on a jury. In some cases, the jurors are known to the victim.”

Boylan said that her bill would allow the jury selection to happen in the same manner as a court case, and that it would be done through the electoral register.

A panel of potential jurors would be found through the register and then legal teams who represent those involved in the inquest would be able to dismiss up to seven jurors.

“The bill literally just replicates what happens in a criminal court system for the inquest,” Boylan said.

An open letter from 28 signatories, including a former Attorney General, has also been handed in to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

The letter is signed by academics, lawyers, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and former Attorney General Micheal McDowell and calls for an independent jury to be selected.

“The Stardust Inquest will be the largest inquest in the history of the State and will be watched around the world,” reads the letter, seen by The Journal.

“The bare minimum that should be expected is that the evidence is heard by a jury that is selected in a manner that is transparent and representative of wider society.”

The letter calls for McEntee to ensure that the inquest is heard before a jury and that it will be selected in a transparent manner.

The bill itself is set to be introduced to the Seanad tomorrow evening, with a spokesperson for the Department of Justice saying that Justice Minister McEntee, brought up the bill at a Cabinet meeting this morning.

“Minister McEntee recommended to her colleagues that the Government not oppose the Bill,” the spokesperson said.

However, Boylan said that this would not mean the bill will pass through the Oireachtas, and that time needs to be allocated to the bill.

She added that if time is not allocated to her bill to allow it to progress through the Oireachtas before the inquest begins, the Government need to introduce their own bill on the matter.

The bill itself, titled Coroners (Provision for Jury Selection) (Amendment) Bill 2022, will be introduce to the Seanad tomorrow evening.

Boylan said that it was “critical” that there were no further delays to the inquest.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that Minister McEntee and the Department were currently examining both payment of the jury and selection concerns.

“The Minister and Department are currently considering the issues raised in relation to jury selection and payment.”