Garda investigation into allegations of Stardust perjury

Inquiry triggered after complaint by researcher working with bereaved families

The aftermath of the Stardust fire in Artane, Dublin, in 1981.  Photograph: Tom Lawlor

The aftermath of the Stardust fire in Artane, Dublin, in 1981. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

 


Gardaí have opened a criminal investigation into alleged perjury by several witnesses at the 1981 tribunal of investigation into the Stardust fire.

The inquiry has been initiated on foot of a complaint made by Geraldine Foy, an independent researcher who has been working for more than 10 years with the families of those who died.

She has made statements to gardaí containing what she believes is fresh evidence that warrants investigation more than 30 years after the blaze.

The inquiry began last month and is being conducted by a team based at Coolock Garda station in north Dublin, where the initial investigation into the fire in nearby Artane was based. This inquiry is headed by Det Insp Tony Howard.

Statements have been taken from families of some of the young people who died in the inferno and from fire expert Robin Knox, who has also been working with the families. The families and those working on their behalf have identified what they believe was suspect evidence given at the tribunal. They allege perjury; meaning some witnesses knowingly and deliberately misled the inquiry.


Finding of probable arson
Those against whom the allegations have been made will be interviewed as part of the Garda investigation, though it is unclear if those interviews have already occurred.

Some 48 young people died in the fire that broke out at the Stardust nightclub in Artane on the night of February 13th, 1981. In the immediate aftermath the Fianna Fáil government established a tribunal of inquiry, chaired by former chief justice Ronan Keane. It found the cause of the fire was probably arson and that the flames which gutted the building likely started on a seat in the west alcove of the ballroom.

The families did not accept these findings and have campaigned since for another inquiry. They have consistently maintained that evidence given at the tribunal was flawed. Moreover, they hope that this criminal investigation could lead to a breakthrough in their 33-year campaign.

Antoinette Keegan (52) was aged 18 when she was at the Stardust. Her two sisters, Martina (16) and Mary (19), died in the blaze. She said her family was “hopeful that maybe, at long last, this may lead to the truth coming out”.

She added: “The Keane tribunal was wrong and it has destroyed our lives. The families are still stuck in 1981; haven’t been able to move on. My sisters’ right to life was taken away from them and until the truth comes out they won’t get it back.

“Successive governments have known an injustice happened to our families and have stood by.”


Reliable evidence
The families argue that while evidence given at the 1981 tribunal was flawed, they have gathered sufficient fresh and correct evidence to justify another inquiry which will come to what they say is a correct conclusion. They are also hopeful that a new Garda investigation could lead to further fresh and reliable evidence.

Separately, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has agreed to meet some of the families who staged an overnight sit-in at Government Buildings last Wednesday. “I have the greatest of sympathy for what they have suffered. I have received a request to meet the families and am happy to do so,” said Mr Gilmore.