Stardust inquests another step on the long road to justice for families

‘The reality is there are people who must be held accountable for what happened that night’

Bridget McDermott with her daughter June, holding a photograph of children William, Marcella and George, as Stardust fire victims’ families gathered at a press conference following the announcement of a new inquest into the deaths of 48 young people in the 1981 nightclub disaster. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Bridget McDermott with her daughter June, holding a photograph of children William, Marcella and George, as Stardust fire victims’ families gathered at a press conference following the announcement of a new inquest into the deaths of 48 young people in the 1981 nightclub disaster. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Stardust families will seek “accountability” for their loved ones’ deaths after the inquests, their solicitor says.

Darragh Mackin, speaking at a press conference in Dublin on Thursday, said there were “people who must be held accountable” for the events surrounding the 1981 nightclub fire in which 48 young people died.

He said fresh inquests ordered on Wednesday evening by the Attorney General, Seámus Woulfe, would be an opportunity for the families to present and test evidence on the cause of the fire.

If the facts are established as they expect, they will then seek prosecutions. The inquests were the first step, he said.

“If we are correct the reality is there are people who must be held accountable for what happened that night. That is the second step,” said Mr Mackin.

On Wednesday Mr Woulfe’s office ordered fresh inquests because of “insufficiency of inquiry” into the tragedy up to now, “namely a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire”.

Inquests held in 1981 returned medical causes of death.

New inquiry

The families, led by Antoinette Keegan (57) who was in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, on the night of February 13th-14th, 1981, and who lost her sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16) in the inferno, have fought for a new inquiry into the Stardust since the publication of the original report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the fire in 1982. Chaired by Mr Justice Ronan Keane, it found the “probable” cause of the fire was “arson” and that the fire started on a seat in an alcove in the club.

Following a review of evidence in 2009 by Paul Coffey SC, the arson finding was removed from the public record, but a further inquiry was deemed not in the public interest due to passage of time and deterioration of evidence.

In 2017 retired judge Pat MacCartan also recommended no new inquiry. In April Mr Mackin, acting for the families, applied for fresh inquests.

Mr Mackin insisted “the truth can still be established as to what happened that night”.

He said there had been huge advances in the science of fire, while a number of key witnesses had never been called to give evidence, including Ms Keegan and Brenda Kelly (85).

Timeline

Ms Kelly, a resident still living adjacent to the site of the Stardust, says she made a 999 call on the night of the fire that is not recorded in the timeline of the 1982 Keane report and which would indicate the fire started in the roof space.

Today is a victory for the dead 48 who perished, have guided us, walked every step that we walked

Ms Keegan said the families were still in shock following this week’s announcement. Now a grandmother, she became emotional as she spoke.

“We are still in shock since we got the news last night. We have had that many letdowns before. In the 38 years of journeying for justice we have set up many campaigns. My father set up Stardust victims group in 1985 and he fought to his deathbed for justice.

“Today is a victory for the dead 48 who perished, have guided us, walked every step that we walked. It is victory for all the parents who have passed away, like my father . . . for the brothers and sisters who have committed suicide.”

A spokeswoman for Dublin Coroner’s Court said: “There will be significant preparatory work to be carried out prior to setting the dates for hearing of the inquests. It is not possible to indicate at this point the length of such hearings.”