Survivors of the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state have called for a new inquest to begin without delay.
On 14 February 1981, 48 young people were killed and more than 200 injured, when a fire broke out inside the Stardust nightclub in the north of Dublin city during a Valentine’s Day disco.
Today, ahead of tomorrow’s anniversary, survivors and relatives of the victims held a candle-lit vigil at the site of the fire in Artane.
Image: The Stardust fire took place in Dublin in the early hours of 14 February 1981
The names of the 48 victims were read aloud, and Irish folk singer Christy Moore performed They Never Came Home, a song he wrote for those who died.
Among those attending was Pat Dunne, who lost her 21-year-old brother Brian. Such was the intensity of the blaze, her family didn’t receive his remains to bury, just some items of clothing.
She remembers the family receiving the news.
“My mam was a great woman, very stoic, and she just sat there. My dad just lost the head, screamed and cried, ‘no, no, no, can’t be him’. It was their baby. The youngest of seven,” she said.
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“The rest was kind of a blur, dad just kept crying, mam just sat there in silence, white-faced. The rest of us just couldn’t comprehend what had happened.”
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, a tribunal of inquiry was set up, chaired by Mr Justice Ronan Keane. It found the “probable” cause of the fire was arson, a finding that was angrily rejected by the families as it appeared to place blame on those attending the disco.
Image: Pat Dunne held a picture of her brother as she remembered the moment her family found out the tragic news
The finding of probable arson effectively protected the club’s owners and operators, the Butterly family, from being sued by survivors, despite evidence that it was practice for emergency exits to be padlocked and chained.
The Butterlys themselves brought a compensation claim on the basis of the arson finding, and were awarded IR£581,000 from a Dublin court in 1983.
The families kept campaigning, but in 2009 a new government-ordered report found that, although there was no evidence that the fire was caused by arson, due to the passage of time and lack of evidence, a new inquiry was not warranted.
This was backed up another investigation in 2017.
Image: Samantha’s mother Helena was killed in the fire
Image: Samantha Mangan shared a picture of her as a baby with her mother Helena
But finally, in 2019, the attorney general ordered that new inquests into the 48 deaths should be held.
The Stardust families reacted with delight, but the new inquest process has been delayed by legal argument and wrangling over juror pay.
For Samantha Mangan, whose mother Helena was killed, the new inquest can’t come soon enough.
“I have five beautiful children”, she said, “and I can’t be the best mum to them until I know.
“It’s like a brick, it’s killing me. It feels like there’s a chain around my neck. I can’t move forward until I find out what happened to her and why she didn’t come home.”
The fresh Stardust inquest is expected to be the largest and longest of its kind in Irish history, possibly lasting for four years.
It should get under way sometime in March, and the Stardust families hope it will bring them a step closer to the end of their decades-long search for answers.
Source : Sky News