New inquests into the Stardust disaster in 1981 should be a pathway to justice for families and the community of Artane who were criminalised by allegations of arson and a State sponsored cover-up as to what happened on the night the fire tore through the ballroom, a solicitor for 44 of the families has said.
Darragh Mackin was speaking at a pre-inquest hearing at Dublin’s Coroner’s Court held today.
New inquests into the deaths of the 48 victims are set to be heard next year following the instructions in December last year from the then Attorney General Seamus Woulfe.
Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane outlined the facts of the disaster, saying that on the night of February 13 1981 a disco dancing competition was held at the Stardust Ballroom in Artane in Dublin 5.
“There had been some 420 people in attendance, and the majority of those were between the ages of 18 and 25 from the surrounding areas of Artane, Kilmore and Coolock,” she said.
“In the early hours of the morning on February 14 a fire broke out on the premises and ultimately took the lives of 48 persons who were all in attendance”.
She said it was the Attorney General’s view that the holding of new inquests is in the public interest and in the interest of justice.
“Where a disaster of the magnitude of the Stardust Ballroom fire occurs the families of the victims are entitled to a public revelation of the facts, and that the community as a whole should be satisfied that the truth should emerge,” she told the pre-inquest hearing.
A letter from the then Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe, which gave rise to the new inquests was read to the court.
In it he outlined how inquests were held in the past in 1982 to record how the deaths occurred.
“But there was no reference to the surrounding circumstances, in particular the cause or causes of the fire. And it does not appear questions as to the cause or causes of the fire were canvassed to sa sufficient degree if at all,” he said.
“I therefore consider that at the original inquest there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred,” he added, saying the holding of fresh inquests is “advisable”.
Dr Myra Cullinane said the new inquests will be “entirely fresh” and will not be affected by the findings of the previous inquests or any other investigation.
“No part of the inquests will be to review or adjudicate on findings of any previous investigations. These will be entirely new cornoner’s enquiries,” she explained.
Dr Cullinane also made an appeal for any members of the public who have any information in relation to the fire to come forward.
“There is an appeal for any eyewitness who has not previously come forward to do so if they may be of assistance to the enquiry,” she said.
“If you believe you have evidence that can assist these inquests please do not keep it to yourself,” she added.
Solicitor Darragh Mackin said that until this point in time families who have fought relentlessly for 39 years have been “met with obstacle upon obstacle, failed investigation after failed investigation, in what we will say is a State sponsored cover-up to what actually happened in the Stardust”.
He said the inquests will hear from a mother and father who lost their only child, and a daughter who became orphaned as a result of the events, a family whose father, a fireman, was intimidated should he speak out, and a community where sections were criminalised by an allegation of arson.
Mr Mackin also appealed to Dr Cullinane that the inquests should ensure open justice and make as much documentation from the future inquests as possible available to the public.
“We would say that up until this point it has been a situation of hear no evil, see no evil, and certainly speak no evil,” he said.
Relatives of victims of the Stardust disaster gathered outside the Coroner’s Court before the pre-inquest hearing with photographs of their loved-ones.