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Stardust coroner to rule later this week on whether 'unlawful killing' verdict can be excluded

The tenth pre-inquest hearing was held this afternoon at the RDS.

Family members of Stardust fire victims outside the RDS today.
Family members of Stardust fire victims outside the RDS today.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE CORONER OF the Stardust inquest will rule on whether or not a verdict of unlawful killing can be excluded for the considerations of a future jury later this week.

Speaking during the 11th pre-inquest hearing at the RDS today, Senior Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane said that she would not be ruling on the verdict today, and that it would be later this week or potentially next week before her rulings are made.

Cullinane said that she would make the ruling via correspondence rather than at an in-person hearing. 

It comes as submissions were made on behalf of Eamon Butterly, who ran the Stardust nightclub in Artane, seeking to have the verdict of unlawful killing ruled out as a potential option for future jurors.

48 people were killed and over 200 injured in a fire at the nightclub on 14 February 1981.

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

The submission was defended by Paul O’Higgins SC, counsel for Butterly, who said that 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.

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He added that there needed for perspective on the matter, and that the focus of the inquests was the 48 people who died in the Stardust fire. The goal is to investigate how they died, he said. 

In his statement to the coroner today, O’Higgins SC said that he was concerned about the constitutionality of the proceedings, which lead to concern from representatives of the family

Also appearing on behalf of the families Desmond Fahy QC said those most closely impacted by the Stardust tragedy were “appalled and anxious” at the thought that the inquests could be further delayed.

“There is no proper reason why we can’t get to those inquests that the families have been waiting for for so long.”

The next Stardust pre-inquest hearing is set to be held in the second week of March, and will be located in the Pillar Room in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin rather than the RDS.

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.

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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