Stardust inquests: 16 bylaws breached by management at nightclub, coroners court hears

A lack of fire drills and staff training, as well as the obstruction of emergency exits were among breaches that amounted to noncompliance with all but ten of the 26 applicable bylaws, fire engineer tells inquests

EOY Mag Pics 2023

A total of 16 bylaws were breached by management at the Stardust nightclub in north Dublin where a fire in 1981 killed 48 people, Dublin coroners court heard on Wednesday.

Martin Davidson, fire engineer, told day-107 of fresh inquests into the death of the 48, aged 16 to 27, as a result of the inferno in the early hours of 14th February 1981, a lack of fire drills and staff training, as well as the obstruction of emergency exits were among breaches that amounted to noncompliance with all but ten of the 26 applicable bylaws.

He said no revised drawings had been submitted to the local authority, Dublin Corporation, indicating that carpet tiles would be used to line most of the ballroom’s internal walls. The inquests have heard the thousands of carpet-tiles were a central factor in the rapid spread of the fire.

Doors on the premises were fitted with metal shutters, which were fully down and locked, and despite a prohibition on temporary barriers, other than ropes, tables were stored in the foyer reducing exit width.


In addition, chains and padlocks were used to lock exits while occupants were in the building, contrary to bylaws.

Mr Davidson said that exit doors, if fastened when the public were on the premises, were to be secured by automatic fastenings which operate when the cross bars are pressed. However, Stardust manager Eamon Butterly had told the inquest exits one, five and six had been locked until about midnight.

Another stipulation – that a key board be provided for these chains and padlocks – was breached.

The requirement that employees be allotted duties in the event of a fire was not met. The inquests heard from Mr Butterly that fire drills were not held. He was neither aware of procedures to be followed in the event of a fire nor of the need to seek advice on such procedures.

Bylaw on overcrowding was breached during a Specials concert in the Stardust on 15 January 1981.

There were further breaches in relation to maintenance of fire extinguishers; planning drawings and the sealing shut of toilet windows with metal sheets and bars.

“In summary, what is shown is that of the 26 bylaws applicable to the Stardust, 16 of these were not complied with. These ranged from changing of the design without approval, lack of fire drills, lack of staff training, lack of fire safety maintenance, and the locking and obstructing of emergency exits,” said Mr Davidson.

Mark Ross, expert in fire services and fire engineering with a 28-year career with London Fire Brigade, told day-107 of the inquests the first Dublin Fire Brigade tender, from Kilbarrack station, arrived at the Stardust at about 1.50am, five to six minutes after the first 999 call. A further five appliances arrived on scene by 1.58am, from North Strand and Tara Street stations.

“On arrival, flames had already breached the roof ... Fire flames and smoke was visible as they approached so they clearly knew they had something major as they were turning up,” said Mr Ross. “I also think the fire was probably at or past its peak when the fire crew arrived.”

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Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times