Families welcome ‘important day’ as fresh Stardust fire inquest set to begin

The blaze at the Dublin nightclub in February 1981 killed 48 people and was the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state.

David Young
Tuesday 25 April 2023 11:44 BST
Family members of victims of the Stardust tragedy along with supporters arriving at the Rotunda Foundation in Dublin for the 15th pre-inquest hearing into the Stardust fire (Brian Lawless/PA)
Family members of victims of the Stardust tragedy along with supporters arriving at the Rotunda Foundation in Dublin for the 15th pre-inquest hearing into the Stardust fire (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

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Relatives of the 48 people who died in a fire at a Dublin nightclub 42 years ago have said it is a “massive” and “important” day as the long-awaited fresh inquest is set to begin.

The deadly blaze at the Stardust Ballroom in Artane in the north of the city broke out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 1981.

It was the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state.

The inquest is set to be the most extensive ever held in Ireland and could last up to six months, with around 350 witnesses potentially due to give evidence.

An original inquest in 1982 lasted just five days and recorded the cause of the deaths in accordance with medical evidence, with no reference to the circumstances or the cause of the fire.

After a long campaign by the victims’ families, in 2019 then-attorney general Seamus Woulfe directed that new inquests should take place.

Jury members were selected last week and the first few days will see relatives of those who died read pen portraits to the hearing.

Antoinette Keegan, whose two sisters, Mary and Martina, died in the tragedy, said finding out why loved ones died is the most important thing the inquest can provide.

“It’s very important – it’s a massive day for us, we’ve been waiting 42 years for this day to come, and finally we’re here,” she said before the inquest opened in Dublin.

It’s a massive big day for us families

Antoinette Keegan

Families gathered at the nearby Garden of Remembrance on Tuesday morning ahead of a planned march to the hearing venue.

“Today, the pen portraits are going to be read, and it’s getting done in alphabetical order, so Michael Barrett will be read today and Carol Bissett,” said Ms Keegan.

“Both very young – too young to die. Their profiles will be read today, their portraits, and it will give a description of who they were, when they were born, what they wanted in life, what they achieved, their ambitions for their future.

“It’s actually going to describe the human side of each victim, which is the first time in the history of the State that this has ever been done, pen portraits at the inquest. It’s a massive big day for us families.”

She added: “We hope it will achieve what it sets out to be according to the Coroners Act: the finding of fact which will be given in the evidence from the witnesses and it will be given in the evidence from the experts. The finding of fact of why our loved ones died and how they died.

“That’s the most important thing.”

A solicitor representing some of the Stardust families, Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law, said the inquest marks “a momentous day” in their campaign.

“Today is a momentous day, it’s the start of the end of a very long journey for these families,” he said.

It’s disappointing it’s taken so long to get to this stage but, crucially and most importantly, today marks the start of what hopefully is the end of this campaign for truth and justice

Darragh Mackin, Phoenix Law

“It’s disappointing it’s taken so long to get to this stage but, crucially and most importantly, today marks the start of what hopefully is the end of this campaign for truth and justice.

“More importantly it starts with a tribute (from) every family member who has come here today, a tribute to each victim which we say is very important in a case like this, that we start with and we end with those that are most important – the victims themselves.”

He said the first inquest had looked at “very little evidence” and that reviews carried out since then had been “piecemeal” and “haven’t been asking the right questions”.

“The reality is this inquest, unlike the previous inquiries, will be able to hear all of the evidence, all the witnesses, it will be able to hear expert evidence and it will be able to come to a conclusion with all of that in mind.

“The reality is that previous inquest didn’t look at all the evidence. It didn’t hear from relevant witnesses where this inquest will.”

The inquest is being held in Dublin’s Rotunda.

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