Stardust families threaten to withdraw from review of evidence

Relatives of 48 victims of nightclub disaster say they are being ‘stonewalled’ by Minister

The aftermath of the fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin. File photograph: Tom Lawlor/The Irish Times

The aftermath of the fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin. File photograph: Tom Lawlor/The Irish Times

 

The families of 48 young people who died in the 1981 Stardust disaster say they are being “stonewalled” and “dismissed” by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

The families have said they will “pull out of” a Department of Justice review of evidence they have gathered since 2008, which they say supports their call for a new investigation into the case.

Ms Fitzgerald authorised a departmental review of any new evidence two years ago.

In recent correspondence to the families, she said the evidence they had presented was not sufficient to warrant a new investigation.

In a press conference in Dublin on Thursday, Antoinette Keegan, spokeswoman for the Stardust Victims Committee, said the families had engaged with the department in good faith for more than two years, providing substantial new evidence, but the process had proved “fruitless, frustrating and [was] going nowhere”.

Some 48 people died in the fire at the Artane nightclub in the early hours of February 14th, 1981.

A tribunal of inquiry into the incident, under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Ronan Keane, published its report in 1982.

It found that the cause of the fire was “probably” arson and that the fire had almost certainly started on a seat in the west alcove of the ballroom.

The families have always rejected the arson finding and have campaigned for a new inquiry.

Review of evidence

A review of evidence submitted by the families, conducted by Paul Coffey SC, was published in January 2009.

It resulted in the removal of the arson finding from the public record, a move which was welcomed by the families.

However, since then, the families said they have identified further evidence, including flaws in the original map of the Stardust used by the Keane tribunal and a 999 call made from a house near the Stardust on the night of the fire that was not recorded in the Keane tribunal report.

They have also identified evidence that a number of the deceased had died of asphyxiation before the fire was seen in the ballroom.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD, who is supporting the families, said it was “baffling” that the Minister did not believe the new information warranted further investigation.

A spokesman for the department said it was “not the case that any materials presented by the committee have been dismissed”.

The spokesman said the families had indicated they had further material supporting their call for a new investigation and urged them to provide this.

“The department remains anxious to engage with them to examine how this issue may be progressed,” he said.