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Stardust fire campaigners move forward in 'strongest' attempt to hold new inquest

New documents have been submitted to the Attorney General.

Updated at 8.35am, 3 April

ec346bd7-d570-407d-aadd-ffa66b290239 Campaigners outside the Office of the Attorney General, handing in the documents. Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

CAMPAIGNERS CALLING FOR a new inquest into the Stardust fire have taken the next step in their fight by submitting new documents to the Office of the Attorney General.

The fire, which tore through a club in Artane, Co Dublin, on Valentine’s Day in 1981 remains the worst disaster of its kind in the history of the State. Forty-eight people died and more than 200 were injured.

An inquiry into the blaze previously put forward arson as the probable cause, but this was rejected by families and later overturned as part of a separate inquiry a decade ago.

Retired judge Pat McCartlan was tasked in 2017 with examining whether there would be grounds to hold a new inquest into the fire. He ruled that a new inquiry was not warranted, saying there was no new evidence.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan decided against another inquiry.

‘Strongest’ attempt

However, the families of those who died and survivors who were there on the night believe this latest move is their ‘strongest’ attempt yet at triggering a new inquest.

Speaking to the media today, the campaign’s solicitor Darragh Mackin said this latest dossier contains new evidence from witnesses “such as family members who were never before asked to give an account of what happened that night”.

It is contains the views of experts who gave evidence as part of inquires or inquests into the the 2018 Grenfell Tower fire, the Twin Towers terror attack in 2001, the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre in Belfast, and the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

Stardust nightclub fire File photo of gardaí outside Stardust the morning after the fire. Source: PA Images

He added that the documents contain detailed accounts from eyewitnesses who were outside the club on the night, who claim they saw the blaze originate in the roof space as opposed as to the West Alcove seating area of Stardust, which previous inquests and fire investigations into the blaze hinged on.

“The threshold for a fresh inquest in relatively modest,” Mackin told the reporters, “It is whether or not the Attorney General [Séamus Woulfe] feels it is advisable.”

We say that it is clear from the evidence presented to him today that the test is met, and that a fresh inquest would be advisable, for the simple reason that the families would then be afforded a mechanism to establish the truth.

Antoinette Keegan, a leading member of the campaign who lost two sisters in the fire, said they have faced “many concrete walls” in their efforts for a new inquest to be held, but are now very confident their latest effort will yield results.

“We want truth, and we want justice,” she said, stressing that ‘it’s not fair on the parents’ of people who died in the fire, some of whom are now unwell, describing the repeated delays as “systematic abuse”.

The belief that this latest attempt could yield results was echoed by Jimmy Fitzpatrick, who himself survived the fire.

“We have more clout to prove our point,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to meet us on the 29th May, I would like to put to him, ‘Listen, this didn’t happen on your shift, you lot aren’t responsible for this, so give the families closure, give them a hearing, give them a voice at least’.”

We’re never going away. The mothers and fathers are getting old, but we’re still around, and we’ve got people behind us.

The group recently brought their issues directly to the Human Rights Commissioner in Strasbourg.

Speaking in the Dáil on this year’s anniversary of the fire, Minister Flanagan said:

I am happy and satisfied at all times to receive any new information that the committee or any individual wishes to share with me. I had the opportunity to meet with the representative groups of victims and survivors on a number of occasions.
I understand an application has been made to the Office of the Attorney General on the possibility of reopening the inquest. I am not privy to the detail of that, nor should I be. However, I am happy to convey the Deputies’ concerns directly to my colleague, the Attorney General, immediately following this intervention.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said: “Minister Flanagan is keenly aware of the suffering of the Stardust victims’ families and has the greatest sympathy for them. The Minister has, with Government colleagues endeavoured to address the concerns of the families through the November 2017 Report of Judge McCartan.

“However in this instance any call for a fresh inquest is for the Attorney General alone to consider.”

Also in response to queries, the Department of the Taoiseach said:

Among the statutory powers conferred by the Oireachtas on the Attorney General is that in section 24 of the Coroners Act 1962, which provides that where the Attorney General has reason to believe that a person has died in circumstances which in his opinion make the holding of an inquest advisable he may direct a coroner to hold an inquest into the death of that person. Where an inquest has already been held, and the Attorney directs that a further inquest is to be held, grounds will need to be set out for the holding of a further inquest.
The Attorney General acts independently of Government in carrying out his role under section 24 and in carrying out that role must do so in a manner that is impartial and fair to all.
A formal request in relation to the Stardust victims which had been expected has now been received. The formal request has not yet been analysed. The Attorney General will give full consideration to the request in due course, but no information can be given as to when a reply might issue.

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Nicky Ryan

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