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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Sasko Lazarov/ File photo of the interior of the courtroom.

Jury told of 'utmost importance' to families and wider public of Stardust inquests

Pen portraits have concluded and the court is now preparing to hear background facts and evidence.

THE STARDUST INQUESTS are of “utmost importance” to both the families involved and the wider public, the jury heard today, as it prepared to hear witness evidence in the coming weeks.

Fresh inquests are underway into the deaths of 48 people in the 1981 Dublin nightclub fire, which the court heard was “the single most serious loss of life in one incident of this type in the history of the state, and remains so today”.

Pen portraits of each of the deceased have concluded, and the court is now moving to hear evidence, both from witness testimony and based on established facts associated with the case.

The jury will hear details of the history of the site, the layout of the property, and information about the structure and materials used in the building.

Once this is concluded, witnesses will be called to give evidence and heard as chronologically as possible in relation to the timeline of events.

These have been grouped together as staff and management of the Stardust Ballroom, patrons of the Stardust on the night or members of the public who were in the area, emergency services who responded to the fire, and expert witnesses in the areas of pathology and fire investigations.

More than 300 witnesses will be heard in a process that is currently expected to continue until the end of the year, senior coroner Dr Myra Cullinane told this morning’s sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court.

She added that most witness evidence will be based on evidence given to gardaí at the time of the events or transcripts of evidence given at another date, but witnesses themselves will be allowed to add, reflect, or amend their direct evidence. They will also be questioned by legal teams.

The court heard that some witnesses are unlocatable or deceased, in which case the jury was instructed to “consider the weight attached to such evidence” in line with the law.

‘A very heavy burden of grief’

Dr Myra Cullinane said the fire left “an indelible mark” on the suburb of Artane and the surrounding areas in north Dublin where the majority of the deceased lived.

“They’ve borne a very heavy burden of grief and in particular, obviously, all of those families,” she told the court.

The coroner stressed to the jury that these are fresh inquests, and to not be concerned with the findings of any historical investigations, such as the original 1982 inquests or 1981 tribunal of inquiry, which she gave a summary of.

However, the scope of these inquests has been thoroughly examined to such an extent in the past that a number of “undisputed background facts” will be presented to the jury, with the agreement of the interested persons in the case.

These are the families of the deceased, the then manager of the Stardust and shareholder in associated companies, An Garda Siochána, and Dublin City Council (who held responsibility for the fire brigade at the time of the fire).

“You are the arbiters of the facts that you will hear in evidence,” Dr Cullinane said.

“Therefore, you hear the evidence in an attempt to reveal the truth in a public forum and, where possible, you decide what happened.

You decide which evidence you accept and which you do not. And when the inquests reach their conclusion, it will be for you to make the findings and to record verdicts – not me.

Concluding, she thanked the jury for “the important task” they are about to undertake, and said:

Your service as a juror at these inquests is one of utmost importance, particularly to the families and the interested persons in these inquests, as well as to the wider public more generally.

The jury will be tasked with deciding, in the case of each of the 48 persons: the identity of the deceased; when their death occurred; where their death occurred; and how their death occurred.

These inquests go beyond the basic medical cause of death. The coroner said that there would be a detailed examination of the circumstances surrounding each death.

The verdict “cannot decide or appear to decide criminal, criminal or civil liability”, although recommendations to prevent further deaths can be made.

The court sits again tomorrow.