645. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Justice if she will meet and engage with the legal representatives of the families who lost loved ones in the Stardust tragedy to ensure that there are no further delays in starting the Stardust inquest; if she will provide free and non-means tested legal aid to the families of the Stardust fire victims in order that the inquests into the deaths of their loved ones can commence as soon as possible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24125/21]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): The Stardust fire was a national tragedy that has left a particular legacy of pain for many people in north Dublin. I offer my deep sympathy and condolences to the families of the 48 young people tragically killed in the Stardust fire forty years ago. These families have suffered a terrible loss. I also recognise the impact on everyone who attended that night and the impact on the local community.
I am committed to ensuring that all families of the victims’ of the Stardust fire tragedy will receive the supports they need in terms of legal aid at the new inquests. Extensive work has already been undertaken towards this end. Government funding of up to €8m has been allocated for the new inquests to cover a number of areas, including legal aid for families.
Coroners throughout the country are only now in a position to schedule public inquests in line with the lifting of restrictions, and a bespoke courtroom has been built and remote hearing technology installed to allow the Stardust inquests to be undertaken safely for all concerned.
The last remaining issue is in relation to legal aid to the families. The Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013, made a set of amendments to the Coroners Act 1962, and the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, that enabled legal aid at inquests in certain conditions.
Officials of my Department reviewed alternative arrangements for funding legal professionals, which were not considered to be the best option in terms of meeting the needs of the families compared to the facility provided by Legal Aid Board.
Section 60 of the Coroners Act 1962, (as amended) provides a procedure whereby a family member of the deceased may apply to the coroner for a request to be submitted to the Board in relation to the granting of legal aid. Applications for legal aid have been certified by Dr Cullinane, and these applications are with the Legal Aid Board.
Ordinarily, applicants through the legal aid system would pay an initial fee and support would be provided on the basis of a means test. This is how the legal aid scheme works for all of the individuals who seek their help, and it is a widely respected system.
All of the Stardust families who meet the criteria of the Legal Aid Board, including the means test, will receive support. The usual fee for legal aid applications has been waived, and the legal professionals will receive refunds of their costs one month in arrears instead of after the inquests, which goes beyond the legislation to try and allay any concerns that they may have.
The Legal Aid Board notified my Department that a very small number of the Stardust victims’ families would not qualify for legal aid as they exceed the income limits currently in force by the Legal Aid Board, as required by the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995. I believe it is vitally important that all of the families impacted have access to appropriate legal support, and to that end my Department is working with the Attorney General to identify mechanisms to provide for legal aid to the families who do not meet the financial eligibility requirements under the Civil Legal Aid Act, 1995.
This will require new arrangements to be put in place, such as new regulations. This matter has been actively worked on since the issue was identified to ensure that an appropriate solution is found. I intend that the families and their legal professionals will have a response shortly and the Stardust inquests should commence a few weeks after that.