Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Justice if she will provide 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. [9454/21]
748. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan 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; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10568/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I propose to take Questions Nos. 698 and 748 together.
This Government is committed to ensuring that the inquests into the Stardust will commence as soon as possible, having regard to public health guidelines, and that the families concerned will receive the supports they need in terms of legal aid.
Extensive work has been undertaken to deliver on these objectives. Government funding has been allocated for the new inquests to cover a number of areas including legal aid for the families, the facilities and equipment for the public facing elements of the inquest at the RDS, advice to the Coroner and related costs. Budget 2021 included an allocation of up to €8m to cover such costs and all costs will be fully published upon conclusion of the inquests.
My Department has engaged extensively over a number of months with the legal representative of many of the Stardust families as well as exploring all available avenues to ensure that the families receive the best support in terms of their legal costs. That process has now concluded and the legal representative, the Coroner and the Legal Aid Board have been advised accordingly. The Coroner has processed the requests by the families for legal support and the Legal Aid Board will process the applications on hand immediately. Although the legislation provides for the payment of legal aid at the end of the inquest, the Department has committed to facilitating the making of payments one month in arrears.
The timing of the inquests is a matter for the Senior Dublin Coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, who has already begun her work on this inquest. Three pre-inquest hearings have already taken place. Some delays have been unavoidable with Covid-19 restrictions. The Coroners Society of Ireland agreed that all inquests in the State were not to be held in January given public health considerations under Level 5 restrictions.
The Department has developed a website for the inquests ( https://www.stardustfireinquests.ie/) and assigned additional resources to the office of the Dublin Coroner to support the Coroner in her work. A dedicated socially-distanced courtroom is currently being built and is almost complete, and the Coroner has visited the new courtroom earlier this week. Provision for viewing the hearings virtually has also been made.
The public facing elements of the inquest are expected to commence in Spring 2021, as originally committed to, public health guidance permitting.