Stardust fire relatives ask why ‘nobody in authority wants answers’

Group now pressing for fresh inquests into the deaths of 48 people in 1981 Artane blaze

Lisa Lawlor, who was orphaned by the Stardust tragedy, is calling for the inquest to be reopened into the nightclub blaze in 1981.

 

Nobody in authority wants to know how the victims of the Stardust nightclub fire were killed, relatives of some of those who died in the blaze 37 years ago have claimed.

The families of the 48 who were killed in the fire in Artane, north Dublin in the early hours of February 14th, 1981, have formally notified the Attorney General Séamus Woulfe of their intention to apply for fresh inquests. The request has been made under Section 24 of the Coroners Act.

“Why doesn’t Leo Varadkar, a Fine Gael politician from a different generation who has no links to the tragedy, want to know what happened when 48 young people were burnt to death?” asked June McDermott Carroll, a member of the group, at a press conference in Dublin on Tuesday.

Inquests were held into the deaths in 1982, returning explanations as to the causes of death but no verdicts. A 1981 tribunal of inquiry, chaired by Mr Justice Ronan Keane, found “the most probable explanation of the fire” was arson.

However, that finding was formally removed from the public record in February 2009 following a review of evidence by Paul Coffey SC.

“Yet despite the apparently unexplained deaths of 48 people nobody wants to know how they died,” said Carol Barrett, whose brother Michael Barrett (17) died in the fire.

Eye-witnesses

Ms Barrett said the testimony of eye-witnesses, that a fire could be seen in the roof of the building as the music was still playing, had been given to the Keane inquiry and was still available.

“It was ruled as inadmissible but it is there if anybody wants to know what happened that night,” she said.

Last year, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan decided against opening another enquiry after a recommendation from retired judge Mr Justice Patrick McCartan, who reviewed the evidence in the case.

A number of speakers said they believed the authorities had a lack of enthusiasm for establishing what really happened due in part to the working class status of the area.

The group has started a postcard campaign aimed at getting people to write to Mr Woulfe to ask him to grant new inquests.

“It is in his power,” said Darragh Mackin of KRW Law, who is legal adviser to the families.

Among those calling for fresh inquests was a new member of the campaign Lisa Lawlor (38), whose parents Maureen and Francis were both killed in the fire. Ms Lawlor was just 17-months-old at the time.

Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the tragedy, compared it to the Hillsborough disaster in England, in which 96 people were killed as a football match got under way.

Failures

For years, British police blamed fans for causing the crush. However in 2016, an inquest jury ruled that the victims had been unlawfully killed following failures by police and ambulance services.

Ms Keegan said the families wanted to see verdicts of unlawful killing in relation to the Stardust tragedy which would bring “closure” to the families and justice for the victims which included 2,014 people who were injured.

In response, Mr Flanagan said he was aware of the decision to petition the Attorney General and said it would not be appropriate for him to make any comment to try to influence Mr Woulfe’s decision. However, he noted Mr Justice McCartan’s assessment had been undertaken by the Government last year, and had ruled that there should be no further inquiry.

Mr Flanagan described the Stardust fire as “undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies in the history of this country” and said he sympathised greatly with the families of the people for the terrible loss they have suffered.

A spokesman for the Minister added: “Judge McCartan was chosen by the families to lead the assessment process to determine whether the evidence they had compiled was sufficient to justify the establishment of a commission of investigation, but he concluded that no further enquiry was warranted.”