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Fresh inquests into Stardust tragedy may commence in the autumn after long wait for families

A problem with securing legal for the families of some of the Stardust victims has been resolved, a pre-inquest hearing was told today.

Antoinette Keegan, who lost two of her sisters to the Stardust fire, on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy
Antoinette Keegan, who lost two of her sisters to the Stardust fire, on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy
Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE FRESH INQUESTS into the 1981 Stardust fire could be set to finally commence in the autumn after several delays. 

A pre-inquest hearing this afternoon heard that further work needs to be done before the inquests can begin, but that legal representatives for the victims’ families would be ready by October.

Today’s hearing, led by Dublin city coroner Dr Myra Cullinane, followed a delay to the inquest around the issue of legal aid.

At the last hearing in March, the coroner heard that some of the bereaved families were eligible for legal aid but that others were not.

The Minister for Justice has since signed the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2021, which means that all families of the victims can access legal aid regardless of their means.

It was confirmed at the hearing today that the problem has been resolved.

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, representing families, said that “six months has been lost but hopefully we’re now at the end of the tunnel”.

“We can finally draw a line under the funding position and move forward,” Mackin said.

There are still several outstanding matters that must be considered before the inquests can begin, including whether a European principle on the right to life is applicable to the proceedings and what the scope of the inquests will be.

Two hearings to deal with those issues have been scheduled for the 28th, 29th and 30th of July.

Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights outlines that everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. 

Dr Cullinane asked when the parties expect to be in a position to formally start the inquest proceedings, which Mackin said was a “difficult question”.

September had been suggested for a start date, but Mackin requested that it be put back to October.

He said he does not want to see families wait any longer than necessary but that the legal team still has a large amount of evidence disclosed by the other side to review, including over 9,000 items of garda material.

“The reality of the situation is that the material is voluminous,” Mackin said.

Dr Cullinane said she “wants the families to understand that I am conscious that there has been a long lead into the commencement of these inquests, and I really, for their sake, want to be able to proceed and get into the evidence and the actual hearings”. 

Mackin agreed that “these proceedings have been a long time coming for the families”.

He said that previous investigations have not brought answers for them and that he felt “professionally and ethically it is appropriate to ensure all those preparations are done, they’re compiled and completed, with all the relevant experts instructed fully and properly, and all the disclosure outstanding resolved, and to allow that task to be completed I think that it would be an additional four weeks”.

“Having consulted with my clients, their position continuously has been that that it has been forty years to get to this stage, four weeks is a drop in the ocean,” he said.

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The inquests will hear evidence, including eye-witness accounts, about the deaths of 48 people at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin in 1981. 

The Attorney General ordered new inquests into their deaths in September 2019 after years of campaigning by their families.

Eye-witness accounts from the night, factual evidence on the emergency response and garda investigation, and expert evidence relating to inquests are set to be heard at the fresh inquests.

It was originally hoped that the full scope of the inquests would be finalised at a hearing in January and that the inquests would begin early this year.

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