A fresh inquest into the deaths of 48 young people in the Stardust fire is to be held, the Attorney General has said.
Séamus Woulfe’s office said the AG had found 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,” a statement from the office said.
It also said Mr Woulfe had written to the representatives of relatives on Wednesday.
“ Having carefully considered all aspects of the matter, the Attorney General has formed the opinion that fresh Inquests into the Stardust deaths are advisable,” the statement added.
Darragh Mackin, a human rights lawyer at Phoenix Law in Belfast, who acts for the Stardust Truth and Justice Committee, said:
“The families are delighted with today’s decision. However, we would ask that their privacy is respected tonight.”
He said the families of the Stardust victims would hold a press conference on Thursday morning.
The fire at the Stardust nightclub, in Artane, north Dublin, on the night of February 13th/14th 1981, remains the worst fire disaster in the history of the State.
It occurred during a disco on Valentine’s Day, and killed 48 young people and injured over 200 others, primarily from Dublin’s northside.
In April, the Stardust Victims Committee filed a submission to the AG, the Government’s legal advisor, formally requesting a fresh inquest into the disaster.
‘I can’t believe it’
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 AG.
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.”
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.
Locked emergency exits
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 had 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 after suing Dublin Corporation.
Mr Woulfe’s decision was made under Section 24 of the Coroner’s Act of 1962, which states:
“Where the Attorney General has reason to believe that a person has died in circumstances which in his opinion make the holding of an inquest advisable he may direct any coroner. . . to hold an inquest in relation to the death of that person, and that coroner shall proceed to hold an inquest in accordance with the provisions of this Act. . .whether or not he or any other coroner has viewed the body, made any inquiry, held any inquest in relation to or done any other act in connection with the death.”
Road to truth
Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath, who helped arrange a meeting between the families and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier this year, said the inquest is an opportunity to “put them on the road to truth and justice”.
“I warmly welcome the decision by the Attorney General Séamus Woulfe to accept the request for an inquest into the deaths of the people who died in the Stardust tragedy,” he told the Irish Times.
“I particularly want to commend Séamus , because I know there was a huge volume of work and documentation done over the last couple of months.”
Mr McGrath praised the families for their “determination in continuing to push for this inquest.”
“There were a lot of setbacks,” he said.
“This is another step on the road to truth and justice for the families, and hopefully this inquest will give them some sort of clarity and also recognition by the State.
“Following all the setbacks and the horrific hurt done to the families, both in the fire and the aftermath, I think this inquest has an opportunity now to clear the air for the families and to put them on the road to truth and justice.” – Additional reporting PA