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pre inquest hearing

Change of venue as RDS to play host to Stardust inquests instead of Dublin Castle

At a pre-inquest hearing today, coroner Dr Myra Cullinane explained how evidence would be heard in three modules.

THE FRESH INQUESTS for the 48 people who died in the Stardust tragedy will take place next year at the RDS concert hall, as opposed to Dublin Castle as originally planned. 

At the second pre-inquests hearing this afternoon, Dublin City Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane confirmed the venue change as she progressed through a brief number of procedural issues relating to the inquests. 

Included in this was the order in which evidence will be heard at the inquests once the formal process gets under way, with eye-witness accounts from the events of the night itself set to be heard first. 

Last month, the first pre-inquests hearing was held into the deaths of 48 people in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin in February 1981.

At that hearing, Dr Cullinane said she would not be bound by any previous investigation or inquest into the matter. 

Families had long campaigned for fresh inquiries into the death of their loved ones and, in September 2019, the Attorney General ordered new inquests into the deaths.

At the time, then-AG Seamus Woulfe said that it was considered “in the public interest and in the interest of justice” that new inquests were held. 

At today’s hearing, Dr Cullinane said she had corresponded with relevant parties as to the scope of the upcoming inquests.

She said that the inquests “will enquire into the broader circumstances surrounding the deaths” and that she would give “consideration to wider issues beyond the pathological cause of death”. 

“The scope will extend to ascertaining the cause of the fire, if possible,” the coroner said, adding that factors such as the condition of the premises prior to the fire and forensic analysis of the scene following the events may also be considered. 

Dr Cullinane said there would be three proposed “modules” to the inquest. The first would be to hear factual eye-witness evidence from the night itself.

The second would feature factual evidence on the emergency response and subsequent garda investigation. 

The third module would then feature expert evidence relating to the inquests. 

These modules however “are not set in stone”, she said. 

On the change of venue, the coroner said she she’d been advised by the Department of Justice that the holding of the inquests in Dublin Castle as planned was “no longer possible”. 

This was due to the ongoing use of Dublin Castle for the Disclosures Tribunal and by the government. 

She said that if family members were to safely attend inquest hearings with adequate social distancing, then a larger room with the necessary facilities was needed. 

To that end, the Department of Justice has secured the RDS concert hall for the hearing of the inquests.

Dr Cullinane said it was her view that these facilities may be “superior” to the ones present in Dublin Castle. 

A spokesperson for the Justice Department said: “With two-metre social distancing in effect, the RDS Concert Hall can accommodate up to 117 people. The costs of this location are currently being finalised, and will depend on the precise set-up for the inquest. 

“We are currently working to define and cost the set-up requirements including audio visual requirements, furnishings etc. However, it is anticipated that the final costs will be in the region of €500,000, and that the space will be rented for most of the first six months of 2021. 

“When not in use for the Stardust inquest, this venue will also be available to Coroners in the Dublin district for other inquests which are too large to be held in Store Street,” they said. 

Before the conclusion of the short hearing, future dates for further pre-inquest hearings were set for 16 December and 20 January 2021. On the latter date, it was proposed the full scope of the inquests would be finalised.

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, representing most of the families of the Stardust victims, noted at the close of today’s hearing that long-time campaigner Eugene Kelly had died in the six weeks since the last hearing. 

stardust-nightclub-fire File photo. Eugene Kelly holding a photo of his brother Robert. Niall Carson Niall Carson

Eugene’s brother Robert died in the Stardust, and he had become a central part of the campaign to secure new inquiries into the fire.

Dr Cullinane said she was aware of Eugene’s passing, and expressed her deepest condolences to his family.