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'Unlawful killing' will not be ruled out as a verdict at Stardust inquest, coroner says

Senior Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane made the announcement today.

Lorraine Keegan, Martina Hand, Antoinette Keegan and Pauline Braymer outside the RDS before the 11th per-inquest hearing
Lorraine Keegan, Martina Hand, Antoinette Keegan and Pauline Braymer outside the RDS before the 11th per-inquest hearing
Image: Leah Farrell

THE CORONER FOR the Stardust inquest has ruled that a verdict of unlawful killing cannot be excluded from the considerations of a future jury.

Senior Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane made the ruling today following submissions from representatives of Eamon Butterly, who operated the Stardust nightclub in Artane.

Butterly sought to have the verdict removed from consideration before a future jury had heard any evidence.

In her ruling today, Cullinane said that ruling out any particular verdict would “invert” the normal inquest procedure, in which an investigation takes place before findings or a verdict is reached.

Cullinane says that inquests are not to lay blame or exonerate people, and that any findings of an inquest are of “no legal effect”.

“An inquest does not administer justice between parties. It is a hearing of matters of public interest,” said Cullinane.

“In any event, it is not within my power as a Coroner to investigate allegations of civil or criminal wrongdoing, although it is both my power and my duty to investigate acts or omissions which might – in other settings – be consistent with such allegations.”

The Stardust nightclub fire itself occurred on 14 February 1981, with 48 people losing their lives and over 200 people being injured.

Unlawful killing is among a number of different findings that can be reported by an inquest, including misadventure and accidental death.

The submission which was made by Paul O’Higgins SC, counsel for Butterly, said that it was due to concerns around placing blame for the fire on Butterly.

He said that a ruling of unlawful killing should be ruled out as inquests are not held to assign blame or to exonerate individuals, and that they are held to discover the facts.

Statements submitted to Cullinane in December 2021 by Phoenix Law, who represent the families of those who died in the fire, reference an argument that could be made for unlawful killing being returned as a verdict.

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Cullinane says that it was due to this that counsel for Butterly entered submissions to have unlawful killing removed as a potential verdict.

Counsel for the Stardust families, Sean Guerin SC, argued that ruling out a verdict before any evidence was heard by a jury would be outside the remit of the coroner. This was echoed by other representatives for the families, as well as representatives for An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council.

Currently, no jury has been empanelled for the inquest.

The 11th pre-inquest hearing was heard in the RDS last week, with Senior Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane hearing submissions from representatives of the families, Eamon Butterly, An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council.

Future pre-inquest hearings are set to be held in the second week in March, and will be held in the Pillar Room in the Rotunda Hospital.

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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