Stardust deaths: Cold-case gardaí ordered to examine possibility of criminal inquiry

Inquest verdicts of unlawful killings following 1981 blaze has brought investigations ‘back to the fore’, says Garda chief

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has ordered detectives to re-examine the possibility of a criminal investigation into the unlawful killing of the 48 victims of the Stardust fire.

A team of experienced cold-case detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the force’s foremost investigative unit, will review two previous files on the 1981 tragedy which were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

One file was submitted shortly after the fire, and another in 2016. In both cases the DPP ordered that no charges be brought.

Last week, following a year-long inquest, a jury returned verdicts of unlawful killing in relation to all 48 people who died in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin.


The jury found that at the time of the fire, exits in the Stardust Ballroom were either locked, chained or otherwise obstructed.

Speaking to the Policing Authority on Thursday, Mr Harris said the inquest’s verdict “has obviously brought our investigations back to the fore”.

If a new criminal inquiry into the unlawful killings is launched, it would be the largest multiple homicide investigation in the modern era.

The Commissioner said the work “is at the beginning of the road” but that there is still considerable “corporate knowledge” within the force relating to the investigation.

As well as examining previous case files, detectives will review a report from the Dublin District Coroner on the inquest, including witness testimony and other evidence.

The Commissioner said An Garda Síochána has a memorandum of understanding with the coroner where any potential criminal matters are brought to Garda attention.

A report is expected to go to gardaí within the next several weeks. However, Mr Harris said gardaí have already started work on examining evidence they themselves hold.

Since 1981, a detective inspector based in Coolock has been liaising with the families of the victims, he added.

The Policing Authority also heard of a “phenomenal” increase in cases of online child sex abuse material, known in legislation as child pornography, in recent years.

Detective Chief Supt Colm Noonan of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) said referrals from the US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children had increased 300 per cent between 2015 and 2022.

These are cases of online child sex abuse material believed to involve an Irish victim or perpetrator. Some cases involve children as young as five, he said.

Since the start of 2024, gardaí have rescued 25 children identified as having been used to create online child abuse material. However, Det Chief Supt Noonan said the volume is such that not all referrals can be acted upon.

“We’d like to be able to action 100 per cent of these, but it’s simply not possible. There isn’t a law enforcement agency in the world that’s able to respond to all of those.”

This year has seen a rise in “self-generated” material, created by children themselves and sent to other children or adults, he said.

Det Chief Supt Noonan said 60 additional staff are being hired for his bureau, which will allow for investigations into material being shared on the dark web and through peer-to-peer formats.

“It will enable us to start tackling child sexual abuse perpetrators at the earliest possible stage.”

Mr Harris said this was a very challenging area for law enforcement, and warned parents to closely monitor their children’s activity online, including on social media and gaming consoles.

“I can’t overemphasise the fact that there are predators on the internet ready to victimise your child,” he said.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times