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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 Apr 1989

Vol. 388 No. 8

Private Notice Questions. - Sheffield Football Stadium Disaster.

I have had Private Notice Questions from a number of Deputies — Deputy Tony Gregory, Deputy Proinsias De Rossa, Deputy Ruairí Quinn and Deputy Tom Enright — in connection with the appalling disaster in Hillsborough last Saturday and related matters. I will call the Deputies in the order in which they submitted their questions to my office.

asked the Minister for Justice if he will outline the measures which are being taken in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster to review safety and security measures in football stadia in this country to endeavour to ensure that there is no likelihood of a similar tragedy here; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

asked the Minister for Justice if, in the light of the disaster at Sheffield in England in which 94 people died on Saturday last, he intends to initiate a comprehensive review of crowd control measures and safety procedures at Irish sports grounds, especially in view of the fact that a number of major sporting events are due to take place over the next few weeks; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

asked the Minister for Justice if he will make a statement in connection with the appalling disaster in Hillsborough last Saturday; if, in that connection, he will convey the deep sympathy of every Member of Dáil Éireann to those who suffered and to their families and to all the families who have suffered the loss of loved ones; and if, having regard to the deep and historical connection between this country and the people of Liverpool, he will outline the intentions of the Government in relation to the disaster fund that has been established to help victims.

asked the Minister for Justice if he has taken any initiatives in regard to the safety precautions and regulations here in Ireland, following last Saturday's tragedy in Hillsborough; if he has satisfied himself as to existing safety requirements at Dalymount Park, Lansdowne Road, Croke Park and other sporting venues in Ireland for the holding of sporting, musical and social events, regarding entrances, interior of grounds and arrangements for crowds leaving the grounds, in view of some imminent fixtures taking place; and if he will outline the action which is proposed in this regard.

I propose to take the four Private Notice Questions together.

As Members of this House will be aware, the Taoiseach, as soon as news of the appalling disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield became known, issued a message of condolence to the British Premier conveying his personal sympathy and that of the Government at what had occurred.

While this message can be taken as being on behalf of us all, I believe it is appropriate on this occasion to again express deepest sympathy with all those who are bereaved as a result of the tragedy and all those who have suffered physical injury or trauma arising out of it. I know that all Members of this House will wish to be associated with this expression of sympathy.

Last Saturday's occurrence has naturally given rise to concern about arrangements for crowd control and safety at similar events held here. I want to begin by outlining the respective responsibilities in the matter. Responsibility for the orderly control of crowds and for public safety within the grounds at football matches and other events of that nature rests on the organisers of such events. The attendance of gardaí for duty inside the grounds or premises at these events can be arranged by organisers through the Garda authorities who will provide the level of Garda attendance requested. Where Garda service of this nature is provided, the organisers of the event bear the cost.

Security and public order arrangements outside the grounds at such events are an operational Garda matter and one on which the Garda obviously have to adopt a flexible approach involving a willingness to change plans or tactics at any time to suit developments.

The Garda authorities have, for some years now used prepared guidelines on operational planning for control of spectators at sporting and other events which gather huge crowds. The guidelines include arrangements for policing both outside and inside the stadia and the main routes used by spectators. As part of their planning for major events of this kind the Garda authorities meet the organisers and the necessary arrangements are planned in advance.

These arrangements have, in general, worked well up to now. In the aftermath of last Saturday's tragedy, however, it is only prudent that all aspects of safety at such events should now be thoroughly reviewed. Accordingly, the Government have decided to set up a high level review group to carry out a comprehensive examination of all existing arrangements, including the need for additional legislation, for public safety and crowd control at major public events.

In the meantime, the Government have directed that, as a matter or urgency, all Departments should carry out a detailed review of existing arrangements.

In relation to the major sporting events that are due to take place over the next few weeks the Garda authorities have made arrangements to consult with the sporting organisations concerned with a view to seeing to it that all the necessary steps are taken to ensure the safety and security of those attending these events.

In relation to the question of a contribution to the disaster fund which has been set up, this matter has not as yet been considered.

I should like to ask the Minister if he is concerned at the level of insensitivity, if not irresponsibility, of the Croke Park authorities who on the day after the Hillsborough disaster were found to be in breach of the 1985 Fire Safety in Places of Assembly (Ease of Escape) Regulations when two exits, installed at the insistance of Dublin Corporation, behind the Cusack Stand remained locked despite an attendance of 35,000 spectators. Is it the Minister's view that prosecutions should follow that serious breach of safety regulations?

The Deputy is extending the scope of his question.

He is on the ball, however.

With regard to what has been said by Deputy Gregory I should like to state that this is a matter that will have to be considered by the appropriate authority.

Has the Minister any view on it?

I welcome the Minister's announcement about the establishment of a review group. I have suggested that a committee of inquiry should be established which is much the same thing. Will the Minister indicate how quickly the review of existing sports stadia will conclude in view of the fact that a number of major events are scheduled to take place in the next couple of weeks? Will the Minister indicate the Government's willingness to make a generous donation to the disaster fund? I accept that the Minister has said that that matter has not been considered but I should like to ask him to indicate that there is a willingness to make a donation. I should like to ask the Minister to indicate how quickly legislation governing crowd control, the safety of sports stadia and other outdoor locations, will be brought before the House.

As I have indicated, discussions have been put in train between the Garda authorities and the organisers of big sporting events in relation to crowd control arrangements. Those discussions will review plans which have been in place for some time for crowd control at such events and which have worked well up to now. If any adjustments or modifications of these plans are needed in the light of the experience of last Saturday's events at Sheffield, than I have every confidence that the Garda and the organisers of these events will identify them and implement them vigorously and successfully. Looking beyond the forthcoming events, there will also be the through review directed by the Government. With regard to the Deputy's question about the time frame the review is expected to work within, I should like to remind him that Departments have been instructed by the Government to review their involvement in these arrangements. The review body will be established immediately. I should like to repeat that the Garda are approaching the organisers of sporting events which are due to take place. If legislation is felt necessary I am sure the House will give it the priority it may need to get it through as quickly as possible.

I should like to ask the Minister to indicate if the review group will consist of people other than civil servants; in other words, those directly involved in sport.

Most definitely, yes.

In relation to the supplementary questions put by Deputy Gregory, I should like to ask the Minister to consider himself officially informed of what took place on Sunday and to take whatever steps are necessary in relation to those allegations.

The matter was clarified last night.

I should like to ask the Government to conclude their deliberations in relation to a contribution to the fund as quickly and as generously as possible. This is a unique opportunity, in the context of Anglo-Irish relations, to express, on behalf of the Irish people, our sense of horror and solidarity. I should like to urge the Government to be generous.

The answer to the Deputy's first question is, very definitely yes. In reply to his second question about Croke Park, I should like to tell him that this is something I will consider. In reply to his final question, I should like to assure him, and the House, that the review body will conclude their deliberations as quickly as possible.

Will the Minister use his good offices to ensure that fencing around pitches is on hinges, like in France, so that if there is a movement of people the fencing will fall forward thereby allowing people to escape? Will the Minister ensure that all sporting bodies take that suggestion into account? In regard to Lansdowne Road, I suggest that the Minister communicate with those responsible for the DART service in regard to the use of the station adjoining those grounds. The Minister should ensure that trains do not stop at that station when major fixtures are taking place in the adjoining ground. The gates are a potential hazard on such occasions. I am sure the Minister will get the co-operation of the people of Dublin, if he makes an alternative arrangement in regard to that system. Will the Minister ask the Lansdowne Road authorities to provide more entrances to the ground? Spectators will be safe inside but there is a need to examine the number of entrances. Will the Minister give details of the type of review that will take place? Does he agree that the review should not be confined to Dublin venues and should include major centres throughout the country? Will this review be extended right across the country and who will be taking part in it?

With regard to the first three parts of the Deputy's supplementary question, I should say these are matters which are always discussed between the organisers of functions and the Garda authorities. Certainly, these will be matters that will be considered by the review group about which we are speaking. With regard to the final part of the Deputy's question, the Deputy and the House can rest assured that this review group will not confine their activities solely to the Dublin area. It must be remembered that there are many other venues where large groups of people gather for different reasons and which will have to be examined as well.

Can the Minister give the House the exact terms of reference of the review group?

The exact terms of reference of the review group have not been publicised, as yet, but as soon as they are available I will let the Deputy have a copy.

That disposes of questions for today. Let us now proceed to deal with the Order of Business.