Stardust inquests: Last of 190 witnesses gives evidence ahead of closing submissions

Dublin Fire Brigade chief tells inquest of concerns over fire certification process

Fire safety in newly-built structures would be “strengthened” if the certification process was completed by someone unconnected to the building process, Dublin Fire Brigade’s most senior officer has said.

Chief officer Dennis Keeley, giving testimony at Dublin Coroner’s Court on Wednesday, “in essence” agreed the current system, where builders or architects signed their own fire-safety certificates amounted to “self-certification”.

A system where a third-party unconnected to the build signed off on compliance would give greater “assurance” to the public.

The witness was the 190th and final witness to give oral testimony at the Stardust inquests, which have now sat for 109 days. The inquests heard from 373 witnesses in all, including those unavailable to appear whose evidence was read into the record.


Mr Keeley’s testimony did not relate to the events in the early hours of February 14th, 1981 when a fire engulfed the north Dublin ballroom resulting in the deaths of 48 people aged 16 to 27. Rather, he was invited by coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, to provide testimony that may inform recommendations the jury might make.

Dublin Fire Brigade conducted about 1,300 inspections of homes and premises last year, including about 700 ‘places of public resort’ like nightclubs, bars, bowling alleys and cinemas, he said. Between 80 and 90 per cent of these were “during performance” inspections, when the premises were operating “at capacity” such as during rugby weekends and football matches, he said.

Just 10 fire safety notices – warning notices about fire safety issues that need to addressed – were issued, he added. None of these was to places of public resort, but were mainly to operators or owners of bedsits or apartment buildings.

“Generally we have very strong compliance and interaction with the operators and owners of places of public resort. We find they are housekeeping issues.”

Asked whether there were instances of premises keeping exits locked, or draping chains over exits’ panic bars to make them appear locked, as the inquests heard happened in the Stardust, Mr Keeley said it was “certainly not common”.

“In my career I haven’t come across it and I am not hearing any evidence or reports of that kind of practice,” he said.

Testimony from expert witness, fire engineer Martin Davidson, who appeared at the inquests last week, was put to Mr Keeley.

Mr Davidson, commenting on the system of “self-certification” of new buildings, said: “It is still the people who are building buildings who are designing them, who are signing them off. So, I think it would be strengthened if there were some kind of third-party sign off.”

Sean Guerin SC for the families of nine of those killed in the Stardust, asked Mr Keeley if he would “agree with that sentiment”.

Mr Keeley replied: “I think it would be hard to disagree. It would be another level of assurance. So in essence I would agree.”

The inquests continue next week, after the 43rd anniversary of the disaster, when the coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane will hear submissions on the verdicts that should be available to the jury. In November 2022, former Stardust manager, Eamon Butterly, failed in a High Court bid to have ‘unlawful killing’ disallowed as an available verdict.

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Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times