Belfast Telegraph

New inquest granted into Ireland’s worst fire disaster

The Stardust nightclub fire on Valentine’s Day 1981 left 48 dead.

Friends and relatives of those killed in the 1981 Stardust tragedy (Niall Carson/PA)
Friends and relatives of those killed in the 1981 Stardust tragedy (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The Attorney General has granted a fresh inquest into the Stardust fire that killed 48 young people in Dublin.

The blaze in the popular Stardust nightclub in Artane on Valentine’s Day in 1981 is considered the worst fire disaster in the history of the country.

Families and survivors have campaigned tirelessly for years to uncover evidence through Freedom of Information requests and previously unheard witness testimony, in the hope of persuading the Attorney General to grant a new inquest, in what many now compare to London’s Grenfell fire of 2017.

I'm over the moon, I just can't believe it's happened Survivor Antoinette Keegan

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the Stardust blaze, but lost her two sisters Mary, 19, and Martina, 16, said she believed the families would be left to suffer due to neglect from the Government, and delays from the Attorney General.

The group had protested on Tuesday outside the Government office, before finding out late on Wednesday evening that their request had finally been granted.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “I’m over the moon, I just can’t believe it’s happened.

“I really believed we would be fobbed off again. We were told July 16, then the end of July, then August and now September, I never thought it would come.

“When the solicitor phoned me I just couldn’t believe it.”

I had a lump in my throat when I heard the news, it's great news, we're absolutely chuffed Maurice McHugh, father of a victim

Maurice McHugh, who lost his only child, Caroline McHugh, 17, in the fire said the news is the next big step in their journey for the truth.

“I had a lump in my throat when I heard the news, it’s great news, we’re absolutely chuffed,” he said.

“We have to start somewhere and this is the first step.”

Maurice’s wife Phyllis McHugh said: “I’m delighted, thank God, I’m still nervous that it’s not real or only talk, it’s been a hard journey, but it’s thanks to all the support we had over the years we got here.”

Selina McDermott, whose two brothers William, 22, and George, 19, died along with their 16-year-old sister Marcella, said the campaign has been tough, but it had finally paid off.

“I was in my sister June’s house when we got the news. I was apprehensive about the whole thing to be honest, we’re all over the place, we’ve been let down for so many years and then in one phone call we heard it was granted.

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The scene following the fire in Artane in 1981 (PA)

“June burst out crying; all the pain we’ve been put through, all the stuff we’ve gone through for the truth, this is what we fought for, campaigned for and what we wanted.

“It’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s brilliant news.

“We’ve had so many family coming up to the house, but it’s excitement and nervousness, and everything has to come out, we need the full truth now.”

Darragh Mackin, of Phoenix Law who acts for the Stardust Truth and Justice Committee said: “The Attorney General has today confirmed that our clients’ application for a fresh inquest has been successful.

The families are delighted with today’s decision, however would ask that their privacy is respected tonight.”

In a statement, the Office of the Attorney General said: “Having carefully considered all aspects of the matter the Attorney General has formed the opinion that fresh inquests into the Stardust deaths are advisable.

“This is because he considers that in the original inquests there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred, namely, a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire.

“The Attorney General is thus satisfied that the holding of fresh inquests is, on balance, in the public interest and in the interests of justice.”

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A plaque in memory of the 48 people who died in the Stardust nightclub fire (PA)

Officials originally ruled that the cause of the fire was arson, a theory that was never accepted by the families, who felt it tarnished the reputations of those who died.

It was later ruled out following a fresh inquiry in 2009.

Investigations into the fire showed that a number of escape routes from the dance hall were blocked because emergency doors were locked by chains.

Concerns have also been raised about the investigation of the scene, which allowed politicians and media to walk through the building just days after the fire.

Despite findings of safety breaches, there were no prosecutions over the incident.

An initial finding of probable arson meant that the relatives of the dead and injured were unable to sue the club owners and operators for alleged negligence.

In 1983, the owners of the Stardust were awarded damages of more than 730,000 euro after suing Dublin Corporation.

PA

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