Relatives of Stardust victims want new inquiry

Relatives of the 48 young people who died in 1981 fire say AG notified of plan to apply for fresh inquest

Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in  the tragedy, Lynn Boylan MEP and solicitor Darragh Mackin with Stardust families and supporters, on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the tragedy, Lynn Boylan MEP and solicitor Darragh Mackin with Stardust families and supporters, on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Relatives of 48 young people who died in the 1981 Stardust disaster are calling for a new inquest into their deaths.

At a press conference in Dublin on Friday, they and their solicitor, Darragh Mackin of KRW Law in Belfast, said they had formally notified the Attorney General, Séamus Woulfe, of their intention to apply for a fresh inquest under section 24 of the Coroners Act, 1962.

The fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, on the night of the February 13th/14th, 1981, remains the worst fire disaster in the history of the State.

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, had found “the most probable explanation of the fire” was arson.

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

Since then the families say they have gathered new evidence as to the cause and first location of the fire.

‘Argumentative’

This was examined by retired judge Pat McCartan last year. His report strongly criticised the families’ researcher, Geraldine Foy, whom he said had “no medical, engineering or other scientific qualification that would make her an expert and allow her to give a professional view on matters relevant to the cause, spread or impact of the Stardust fire”. Her presentation was, “rambling, argumentative, disorganised and at times incoherent”, he said and a new inquiry was not warranted.

The families rejected his report, calling it “rude, aggressive and irrational”.

They hope a new inquest will offer an opportunity to legally examine this and other evidence not considered at the original inquest. They also want verdicts on their loved ones’ deaths.

Mr Mackin, presenting the correspondence to the Attorney General, said many facts could be clarified at an inquest which could have “further legal repercussions”.

He cited the example, two years ago, of a fresh inquest into the deaths of 96 people in the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster in Liverpool.

The 2016 inquest, held after a 2012 report had quashed the original verdicts of “accidental death”, found the football fans’ had been unlawfully killed by gross-negligence manslaughter by the South Yorkshire police and particularly by the police officer in command of the match, Chief Supt David Duckenfield.

‘Grave concern’

In his letter to the Attorney General, Mr Mackin says: “It is a matter of grave concern that the original inquest into the Stardust proceeded without access to all the relevant evidence which is now available for consideration ... the initial inquest cannot be considered to have been an effective or adequate mechanism for the purposes of investigating how the deaths came about.”

Among those at yesterday’s press conference were Antoinette Keegan with her mother, Christine Keegan (82), who lost two daughters, Mary (19) and Martina (16); Bridgid McDermott (81) who lost daughter Marcella (16) and sons George (18) and William (22); Betty Bissett (77) who lost daughter Carol (18); Maurice Frazer who lost his sister Thelma (20), Patricia Kennedy (72) who lost daughter Maria (17) and Gertie Barrett (74) who lost her son Michael (17).

Closure

Ms Keegan said she hoped the Attorney General would “do the right thing now and give these families closure, after 37 years”. Her mother said she hoped “it will soon be over”.

Also at the press conference, hosted by Lynn Boylan MEP (Sinn Féin), were politicians who have campaigned with the families: Tommy Broughan, TD (Independent), Dessie Ellis TD (Sinn Féin) and Dublin city councillors Michael O’Brien (Solidarity) and John Lyons (People Before Profit).