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Thursday 17 October 2019

'Now we need the full truth' - Families win Stardust fire inquest battle

The front of the Stardust disco the morning after the blaze in 1981
The front of the Stardust disco the morning after the blaze in 1981
Maurice McHugh with a picture of his daughter Caroline
Antoinette Keegan

The families of the 48 young people killed in the 1981 Stardust disaster have said they finally "need the truth" of how their loved ones died, after the Attorney General granted a fresh inquest into the deaths.

For almost four decades, the families of those who died in the Valentine's night tragedy have campaigned for a new inquiry after the original investigation failed to give them the answers they needed.

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe wrote to the families yesterday, with his office later saying he considered the original inquests showed "insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred".

Holding a new inquest was "in the public interest and in the interests of justice", Mr Woulfe's office added.

Amazing

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the fire but lost her sisters, Mary (19) and Martina (16), took to Facebook to announce that the inquiry that the families had waited so long for was now going to happen.

"We have just received confirmation from the Attorney General that he will grant us a new inquest," she wrote.

"This is amazing news, we never believed this day would come. Thank you all so much for all your support."

Ms Keegan later said: "I can't believe it, I'm over the moon. I just can't believe it's happened.

"I really believed we would be fobbed off again.

"We were told July 16 [that a decision would be made], then the end of July, August and September. I never thought it would come.

"When the solicitor phoned me, I just couldn't believe it."

Maurice McHugh, who lost his only child, Caroline (17), in the blaze, said: "I had a lump in my throat when I heard the news. We're absolutely chuffed."

Mr McHugh's wife Phyllis said: "I'm delighted, thank God. I'm still nervous it's not real or only talk. It's been a hard journey but it's thanks to all the support we had over the years we got here."

Selina McDermott, whose brothers, William (22) and George (19), and sister Marcella (16) all died in the blaze, was visiting her sister June's house yesterday when the news came.

Ms McDermott admitted she was initially "apprehensive" after feeling "let down for so many years".

"June burst out crying. All the pain we've been put through for the truth.

"This is what we fought for, campaigned for and what we wanted," she said. "It's a long road ahead of us but it's brilliant news. We need the full truth now."

Hundreds of supporters took to social media to congratulate the Justice for Stardust campaign group, which had fought for a new inquest.

It has been a long road to justice for the families and the sheer scale of loss in the Stardust nightclub in Artane has remained a scar on Dublin.

In the early hours of Valentine's Day, 1981, a fire tore through the nightclub, killing 48 people and injuring 200.

A subsequent tribunal heard that there had been a practice of locking emergency exits at the venue.

The original 1982 inquiry found arson was the probable cause of the blaze. However, this was never proven and no one has ever been held accountable.

Advisable

A statement from the Attorney General's office last night read: "The Attorney General wrote to the representatives of the relatives on Wednesday, September 25.

"Having carefully considered all aspects of the matter, the Attorney General has formed the opinion that fresh inquests into the Stardust deaths are advisable.

"This is because he considers that in the original inquests there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred, namely, a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire.

"The Attorney General is thus satisfied that the holding of fresh inquests is, on balance, in the public interest and in the interests of justice."

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