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Stardust manager seeks judicial review ahead of inquests into fire deaths of 48 people

Eamon Butterly had sought a ruling to preclude the possible verdict of unlawful killing.

Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the Stardust fire, embraces broadcaster Charlie Bird attending an event to mark the 41st anniversary of the fire this month
Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the Stardust fire, embraces broadcaster Charlie Bird attending an event to mark the 41st anniversary of the fire this month
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Feb 25th 2022, 10:31 AM

EAMON BUTTERLY, THE man who ran the Stardust nightclub in north Dublin where 48 people died in a fire in February 1981, is seeking a judicial review ahead of new inquests.

Earlier this month Butterly sought a ruling to preclude the possible verdict of unlawful killing in the case of the 48 people who died in the tragedy.

This was contested by legal representatives of the families of the victims at a pre-inquest hearing on 9 February.

Butterly had indicated he would challenge the constitutionality of the forthcoming inquests unless ‘unlawful killing’ was ruled out.

Unlawful killing is among a number of different findings that can be reported by an inquest, including misadventure and accidental death.

Counsel for the bereaved families told the hearing on 9 February they were “appalled and extremely anxious” at the prospect of further delays to the inquests if Butterly sought a judicial review.

The ‘unlawful killing’ verdict was not ruled out and O’Scanaill and Company Solicitors, Butterly’s legal team, lodged judicial review proceedings in the High Court yesterday.

When contacted by The Journal today, no-one from O’Scanaill and Company Solicitors was available for comment.

The defendants are listed as coroner Dr Myra Cullinane, the Coroner for the Dublin District, the Attorney General and the State.

Paul O’Higgins SC, counsel for Butterly, earlier this month told Dr Cullinane there were concerns around placing blame for the fire on Butterly.

He said that a ruling of unlawful killing should be ruled out as inquests are not held to assign blame or to exonerate individuals, and that they are held to discover the facts.

Inquests are also prohibited from investigating or considering issues that would be related to either civil or criminal liability, O’Higgins said.

Counsel for the families, Sean Guerin SC, argued that completely ruling out a verdict before any evidence is heard by a jury was not within the remit of the coroner.

This was echoed by other representatives for the families, as well as legal counsel for An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council.

Guerin said that there was no intention for blame to be assigned or for anyone to face either civil or criminal liability, and that unlawful killing is a verdict that is able to be reached within an inquest.

Criticism of delay

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan, who has campaigned alongside the victims’ families, today criticised the judicial review proceedings.

“The families of the Stardust victims have waited 41 years for answers to what happened that awful night. This last-ditch attempt by Mr Butterly to delay that happening is unbelievably callous.

“Mr Butterly, like all parties to this inquest will have an opportunity to set out very clearly before a jury, their version of events on the night in an open and transparent manner in the Coroner’s Court,” Boylan said.

Forty-eight people were killed and over 200 injured in the fire on 14 February 1981.

The fresh inquests into the fire were first ordered by the Attorney General in September 2019, and have yet to get fully underway.

The next pre-inquest hearing is set to be held on 11 March and will be located in the Dublin District Coroner’s Court rather than the RDS.

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More than 800 people attended the disco at the popular North Dublin. Despite two previous inquiries into the disaster, nobody has ever been held responsible.

With reporting by Tadgh McNally.

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Órla Ryan

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