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stardust inquests

Stardust floor manager thought fire was deliberately started so people could 'rob the bars'

Phelim Kinahan gave evidence remotely to the Dublin Coroner’s Court accompanied by a legal advisor.

THE FLOOR MANAGER of the Stardust nightclub has told an inquest that he thought the fire that killed 48 people was started deliberately to distract the barmen so certain people could “rob the bars”.

Phelim Kinahan today gave evidence remotely to the Dublin Coroner’s Court accompanied by a legal advisor. The coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, informed the jury in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital that this legal advisor was not an interested party in this inquest and was there for Kinahan’s “moral support”.

During a recess in yesterday’s proceedings, Kinahan’s microphone was still switched on and a disagreement was overheard between him and someone not visible on screen. It is alleged that the person off camera said the doors in the nightclub were locked on the night of the fire, which occurred on 14 February 1981, to which Kinahan allegedly replied: “It’s nothing to do with me so I’m not saying that.”

Continuing his evidence today, Kinahan confirmed that there were six exit doors: the main door that was always staffed and five others. He confirmed there was a concern about people getting into the Stardust without paying, so the practice was for the doors to be locked or look locked by looping a chain over the bars.

Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh BL, representing one of the families of the deceased, asked him if it was ever discussed that a better solution would be to put a man on every door.

“It was mentioned, but when they worked it out, to the best of my knowledge, it came out too expensive to have a man on every door,” replied Kinahan.

Mac Cárthaigh asked if it was deemed that a man on five doors at 15 pounds each was too expensive to put the best practice in place, to which Kinahan replied it was.

Mac Cárthaigh said that evidence was given to a previous tribunal that estimated there were 775 paying customers on the night at three pounds each, making a total of 2,325 pounds, which he described as “a small fortune” in 1981. The witness replied that this was not a small fortune as there were a lot of expenses to be paid.

Earlier this week, the inquest heard that in a statement Kinahan made following the fire, he said he spoke to club manager Eamon Butterly for about five minutes at around 1.20am or 1.30am on the night of 14 February and was about to go into the Stardust when he met a barman who told him there was a fire.

Kinahan said he went out and saw that the curtain nearest the bar was up. He said as he was looking at the fire, Eamon Butterly was standing beside him and he heard him say: “The bastards started a fire” or some words to that effect.

Mac Cárthaigh asked the witness about this alleged remark made by Butterly. Counsel asked Kinahan what he thought was meant by this.

“There was a certain amount of people around the area of the fire, and I think he thought the same as I did, that the people started the fire just to distract the barmen so they could rob the bars,” replied Kinahan.

“I find that answer disgraceful,” said Mr Mac Cárthaigh.

Kinahan went on to say that he did not remember an incident a number of weeks before the fire when there was smoke seen coming from the main bar area. He also said he did not recall patrons saying that they saw sparks from the ceiling on another date.


The jury also heard evidence from Elaine Stapleton, who was a waitress in the Stardust. In her original deposition, Stapleton said that four weeks before the Stardust fire, she saw smoke coming over the top of the dispense bar on the premises.

“When I saw it first, it was dense and then it thinned out. In my opinion, the smoke was coming from out over the front wall of the dispense bar. Someone said the smoke was from the heating. I am satisfied it wasn’t cigarette smoke, dust or fog. It wasn’t steam either,” she said.

Evidence was also given by Colm O’Brien, who was a DJ in the Stardust on the night of the fire.

In his original statement, which was read out by the court registrar, O’Brien said that he and his colleagues parked their van just outside exit three and unloaded their equipment. When he and his colleagues arrived at the Stardust, exit three was opened by a barman so they could get their equipment in.

At around 1.30am, he looked over to the area of the hall that was partitioned off and saw through the raised partition “a small fire”.

“As the fire got bigger, I could see some of the people begin to panic. I then made an announcement over the microphone. At this stage, the smoke was coming out quite heavy and there were flames on the ceiling at the back of the area,” O’Brien said.

He said that about a minute after he first saw the fire, the entire area that was partitioned off was in flames, and people panicked and ran on to the stage. He said that girls were grabbing him and asking for the way out, and by the time he reached the steps at the side of the stage, the place was “black with smoke” and he found it hard to breathe.

He said the lights went out and the crowd was pushing behind him. He was pushed towards the toilets, and when he got into the toilets there was a small amount of air.

“I closed the door behind me and stayed there for about half a minute. The smoke started coming in under the door and I could hear the fire crackling outside,” he said.

O’Brien said he left the toilets, but he couldn’t see very much because of the smoke, so he felt his way along the backstage to exit three.


He agreed with Séan Guerin SC, representing a number of the families, that the parking of his van by the exit would give the impression that the way was completely obstructed by the van.

“The management of the Stardust had spoken to you about parking the van in that way that showed they understood that it might well be in the way of people trying to exit the premises?” asked Guerin.

O’Brien replied: “It was more to do with people getting in or getting out, if someone needed to deliver something the van would be in the way.”

“Even though that issue was identified, it was never insisted that the van be moved?” Guerin asked.

“No, it was never insisted. I probably shouldn’t have left it there that particular night, but there wasn’t anyone coming along telling me to move it,” replied the witness.

He also confirmed to Guerin that the equipment they used was at the limit of what the electrical system in the Stardust could take.

Brenda Campbell KC, representing a number of the families, put it to O’Brien that exit three was “more of a loading bay for your equipment”, to which the witness agreed. He also agreed with Campbell that, because it was treated as a loading bay, the management was not “particularly enthusiastic” about telling him how it should have been treated as other than a loading bay.

The inquest continues tomorrow.