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Stardust fire: New inquests ordered into 1981 fire that killed 48 young people

48 people died in the Stardust fire in Artane, north Dublin on 14 February 1981.

The remains of the Stardust nightclub in the aftermath of the fire, 14 February 1981
The remains of the Stardust nightclub in the aftermath of the fire, 14 February 1981
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL has today confirmed that fresh inquests will be held into the 48 deaths at the 1981 Stardust fire.

The families, through their lawyers Phoenix Law, made a formal application for a fresh investigation by way of an inquest in April of this year.

In the early hours of 14 February 1981, a devastating fire ripped through the Stardust fire in Artane, north Dublin. 48 people died, and over 200 were injured.

“The Attorney General has today confirmed that our clients’ application for a fresh inquest has been successful,” Darragh Mackin, of Phoenix Law, who acts for the Stardust Truth and Justice Committee said.

“The families are delighted with today’s decision, however would ask that their privacy is respected tonight.”

In a statement this evening, the Office of the Attorney General said he has “formed the opinion that fresh inquests into the Stardust deaths are advisable”.

This is because he considers that in the original inquests there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred, namely, a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause of the fire. 

“The Attorney General is thus satisfied that the holding of fresh inquests is, on balance, in the public interest and in the interests of justice.” 

Following the fire, the subsequent Tribunal of Inquiry heard that a practice of locking emergency exits had existed at the Stardust and that, on the night of the fire, one of these exits had remained locked the entire evening.

It suggested that the fire started in a side alcove away from the main ballroom of the nightclub, but other evidence highlighted by the families in recent times has claimed it started in the roof space.

That Tribunal also found that arson was the probable cause of the fire, despite no evidence that the fire had been started deliberately. No arsonist was ever apprehended.

After families renewed their fight to get justice for their loved ones from the early 2000s, a subsequent inquiry in 2009 recommended that arson be formally struck from the Dáil record and acknowledged it as not being the cause of the fire.

Retired judge Pat McCartan was then 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.

Families, however, do believe they have strong evidence and have been calling for a fresh inquests to finally get onto the path to secure definitive answers on what happened to their loved ones.

Reacting to the news of the inquests, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “This is a significant achievement for the families and the campaign and I congratulate them wholeheartedly. 

“Granting a fresh inquest is the right thing to do. It will hopefully be a major advance in the campaign for truth and justice for the families of those who lost their loved ones on that tragic St Valentine’s night in 1981.” 

With reporting by Sean Murray

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