Belfast Telegraph

Stardust families want someone held accountable for fire in new inquest

The inquest is expected to be the largest of its kind on the island of Ireland.

Eugene Kelly holds a photo of his 17-year-old brother Robert who died in the Stardust fire (Niall Carson/PA)
Eugene Kelly holds a photo of his 17-year-old brother Robert who died in the Stardust fire (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The families of victims and survivors of the Stardust fire say they want someone held accountable for the deaths of 48 young people.

The Attorney General granted a fresh inquest into the blaze that killed young people in Dublin, late on Wednesday.

The inquest is expected to be the largest of its kind on the island of Ireland.

The blaze in the popular Stardust nightclub, owned by the Butterly family, in Artane on Valentine’s Day in 1981, is considered the worst fire disaster in Ireland’s history.

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

Despite findings of safety breaches, there were no prosecutions.

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 with London’s Grenfell fire of 2017.

On Wednesday, the families held an emotional press conference, telling the media that despite years of political indifference, setbacks and false starts, they were “once spectators, now contenders in the fight for truth”.

Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law, who acts for the Stardust Truth and Justice Committee, said the inquest will focus on the new science in investigating fire, and previously unheard witness testimony.

Witnesses include a number of survivors who were never interviewed, despite making themselves available, and a woman who made a second 999 call on the night of the fire, who claims she saw fire coming from the roof of the Stardust, contrary to initial reports that it started on a chair on the dancefloor.

“The facts in this case speak for themselves, the public authorities have real questions to answer, private individuals have real questions to answer, and the reality is, only when all the facts are considered can we get to the truth of those matters,” Mr Mackin said.

Eugene Kelly, whose brother Robert Kelly died in the fire, said he has told the Taoiseach himself that he feels the owners of the premises must be held accountable.

“I told the Taoiseach myself, the buck has to stop with the owners of this premises.”

Selina McDermott, whose two brothers William, 22, and George, 19, died along with their 16-year-old sister Marcella, said too that closure would come from accountability.

“The first stage is for the truth to be told through the inquiry, and the next stage to that is who is going to made accountable for it, so yes, we would like someone held to account.”

Lynn Boylan, former MEP,  said the class element of the issue cannot be ignored.

“The reality is, these were working class kids so their lives weren’t worth as much as kids who were born on the other side of the tracks,” she said.

“I don’t think anybody familiar with the Stardust would disagree that if this had happened in a different part of Dublin, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

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.

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

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.

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Officials originally ruled that the cause of the fire was arson (PA)

In 1983, two Butterly companies were awarded damages of more than 730,000 euro after suing Dublin Corporation.

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the Stardust blaze, but lost her two sisters Mary, 19, and Martina, 16, cried as she said: “My father started the Stardust Campaign in 1986 and fought till his deathbed for justice, this is a victory for them.

“We will keep fighting for the 48, they deserve truth and justice, for the parents who have passed away, and all families who have lost their lives because of this tragedy, this fire should never have caused the death of other family members.”

“This has been an emotional rollercoaster for families involved, who have travelled from Derry to Belfast to Strasbourg and back for truth, and today is a testament to that,” Darragh Mackin added.

“We hope those individuals in charge will learn lessons so this will never happen again and steps are taken and the Stardust is a lesson to those that this can’t happen again.”

PA

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