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'No new inquiry warranted': Stardust report finds cause of fire may never be known

A total of 48 people died and 214 were injured in the Stardust tragedy.

The aftermath of the Stardust fire in 1981
The aftermath of the Stardust fire in 1981
Image: Eamonn Farrell

A RETIRED JUDGE tasked with examining potential new evidence into the Stardust tragedy has ruled that no new independent inquiry is warranted.

Judge Pat McCartan was highly critical of the dossier presented to him, which claimed to hold new evidence into the tragedy, stating that it was “rambling, argumentative, disorganised and at times incoherent”.

A total of 48 people died and 214 were injured in the fire that engulfed the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1981.

In the aftermath of the fire, a tribunal of inquiry was set up under Justice Ronan Keane. However, the families rejected the findings which said arson was the ‘probable cause’ of the fire which began in the west alcove.

New evidence 

The families claimed researcher Geraldine Foy reviewed thousands of transcripts from the original Keane tribunal investigation, stating that she had discovered new evidence which disputes the original findings that the fire began in a seat.

The proposal for an independent expert to review the new evidence, with a view to establishing a commission of investigation was accepted by government in January.

Today, Judge McCartan, having reviewed the evidence, has said in his report that no new investigation is warranted.

The report concludes: “Having considered all the material evidence submitted to the committee there is no new or updated evidence disclosed in the meaning of the terms of this assessment and no new enquiry is warranted.”

Cause of fire

However, the judge does acknowledge that the fire was in the roof space earlier than was determined in the Keane report.

“But it does not explain the cause of the fire and at this remove it is not likely the cause of the fire can ever be established.”

The judge said Foy’s research claims the Keane report and the later Paul Coffey report (2008) into the tragedy was misled by the layout of Stardust, but he said there was no evidence to support this claim. He said the maps produced by the two previous investigations were accurate.

McCartan criticised the material presented to him, stating that it was only on page 358 of the dossier in which there was a statement about new evidence.

“Even then it was very difficult to understand what items of evidence this assessment was being asked to examine.”

One of the principle findings of the report states that while there were differences between the first and second versions of the 2008 report, the differences were not “watered down”.

Findings 

The report said much of the material presented to the judge merely proposed a theory, stating that only new evidence would warrant a new inquiry.

The judge acknowledged the “grief and trauma” experienced by those impacted by the Stardust tragedy.

“The grief must be compounded by the failure of anyone to explain the cause of the fire,” it said, adding again, that the cause of the fire may never be known.

The families of the victims of the Stardust tragedy have said they reject the report. The findings of the report were presented to Cabinet today.

Minister of State for Disabilities, Finian McGrath, who has worked with the families, said his thoughts are with the families of the victims of the terrible Stardust tragedy that took place 36 years ago.

The tragedy was the biggest loss of life in a single incident in living memory in Ireland. Forty-eight people went out for a night of celebrations and never came home.
To the extended families of those 48 young people – and the many others who were injured and traumatised by the event – they are foremost in my mind today.

Families and relatives

He said the conclusion that no new enquiry is warranted will come as a major disappointment to the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee, which he said has been working tirelessly for years to determine the cause of the fire.

File Photo Minister for Justice publishes the Independent Stardust Assessment Report. Christine Keegan stands beside pictures of her daughters Mary and Martha who died in the Stardust fire. Source: RollingNews.ie

In the assessment, Judge McCartan states that this grief must be compounded by the failure of anyone to explain the cause of the fire. ‘Due to the passing of time, it is much harder today to find such an explanation and this assessment must conclude that the cause of the fire may never be known.’
I feel for all the families today as I know that they will be disappointed with the outcome of this assessment. They have suffered a huge loss and their efforts over 36 years are a testament to their loved ones.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Stardust Fire was undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies in the history of this country. He said the government considered it important to assess all available evidence, including any new material that may have come to light.

“Having carefully considered the two previous independent reports on the tragedy and considered all material made available to him, Judge McCartan concluded that no further new enquiry is warranted.

“I want to acknowledge the terrible pain and loss of the relatives of the victims and the fact that the report does not come to the conclusion that they would have wished for. This report by Judge McCartan is the third independent assessment of the available evidence and, while I understand that the pain of the relatives is compounded by the failure to discover the cause of the fire, this report concludes that no new enquiry is warranted.”

Read: Retired judge has three months to review new details from Stardust fire tragedy>

Read: Independent person to review new details from Stardust fire tragedy>

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