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Saturday 10 December 2016

'Confusion and panic' as 48 people killed in Stardust blaze

DISCO TRAGEDY

Chris Parkin

Published 30/12/2011 | 05:00

THE full horror of the devastating Stardust blaze is vividly recalled in government papers released after 30 years.

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A St Valentine's dance in 1981 ended with nearly 50 young revellers killed and more than 200 injured at the nightclub in Artane, Dublin.

An early garda report to the Department of Justice reported "great confusion and panic" at the Stardust when the rescue services arrived there, with hundreds "milling around in a hysterical condition", and with "people trapped inside the burning building".

The report added: "Screams could be heard coming from the toilet area of the building. Gardai attempted to break down the outside toilet windows, but failed."

Around 841 people were in the Stardust at the time of the fire. The terrifying blaze left 48 people dead and 214 injured, many of them seriously.

The documents show how the disaster sparked all-round action at government level.

Clearly-shocked Taoiseach Charlie Haughey's constituency incorporated the fire scene. His Fianna Fail party abandoned its ard fheis at the RDS.

Within hours, Mr Haughey initiated official moves to establish a tribunal of inquiry to investigate the causes of the disaster, ordered a full review of all fire authority procedures and declared a nationwide day of mourning and adjourned Dail proceedings for a day.

In the months that followed the tragedy, the government moved to help with legal fees generated for the families of the Stardust victims by the subsequent High Court judge-headed probe.

Safety

In the event, the tribunal findings themselves proved controversial by maintaining -- while criticising safety features at the venue -- that the fire had been "probably caused by arson".

That conclusion bitterly upset relatives of the dead -- and also permitted the owners of the disco premises to claim compensation.

Later media investigations raised serious doubts about the arson theory and in 2009 a new independent inquiry was given the go-ahead.

Later still there were allegations of delays in publishing the results of the new inquiry and the families involved staged protests against the hold-up.

Eventually though, the second inquiry reported there had been no evidence to back the original conclusion of arson.

That led to the government agreeing that none of the victims of the disaster, or the persons present at the Stardust on the night of the fire, could he held responsible for the fire.

That conclusion was greeted by the families as "a victory for the dead".

Weeks afterwards, the Dail put on record that the arson finding had been hypothetical.

The government papers also highlight offers of help received from north of the Border in the wake of the fire tragedy.

Mr Haughey told the Dail the government had formally expressed thanks to the authorities in the North for the gestures of assistance from hospitals and other services during "a very demanding and tragic situation".

Irish Independent

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