The 26 County Attorney General has confirmed that fresh inquests will be held into 48 deaths at the 1981 Stardust fire in Dublin.
The families, through their lawyers Phoenix Law, made a formal application for a fresh investigation by way of an inquest in April of this year.
In the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 1981, a devastating fire ripped through the Stardust night club in Artane, north Dublin, where over 800 young people were packed in.
When the night was winding down, a fire was spotted from one of the corners of the club. Evidence in recent times has pointed to the cause of the fire starting in the roof space.
Within minutes the fire had gotten out of control. A total of 48 people died, and over 200 were injured. It was a tragedy unlike any other in the past century in Ireland.
In a statement, the Office of the Attorney General said he has “formed the opinion that fresh inquests into the Stardust deaths are advisable”. This was because he considers that in the original inquests there was an “insufficiency of inquiry” as to how the deaths occurred.
The original Tribunal of Inquiry in 1981 found that arson was the probable cause of the fire, despite no evidence that the fire had been started deliberately. No arsonist was ever apprehended.
After families renewed their fight to get justice for their loved ones from the early 2000s, an inquiry in 2009 recommended that arson be formally struck from the parliamentary record and acknowledged it as not being the cause of the fire.
The families have long been calling for a fresh inquests to finally secure definitive answers on what happened to their loved ones. The involvement of Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan and Phoenix Law marked a turning point in their campaign.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard about the inquest. I was not expecting it,” she 82-year-old Bridget McDermott. She showed journalists the picture of the children she had lost, William, George and 16-year-old Marcella who should have been babysitting that fateful night.
“I hope there will be justice now for all the children who died. I want it for my family.”
She remembers helping her eldest son Willie get ready for the disco. “The last thing I did for him was put on his tie,” she said. And she will never forget how she and her late husband Thomas drove around looking for their three missing children. “We drove around looking for them. We couldn’t find them. We tried all the hospitals,” she said.
Antoinette Keegan whose late father set up the Stardust Victim’s Committee in 1985 which was carried on by her mother Christine, said there had been many let downs in the last 38 years.
The Keegans lost two daughters, Mary and Martina, in the fire.
“My father fought until his death bed for justice for them. Today is a victory for the 48 who perished,” she said breaking down in tears. “Those who died and their families deserve justice they deserve truth.”
The inquest three years ago into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster – in which 96 football fans were fatally injured in a crush at an FA Cup semi-final – was recalled several times by families at a press conference on Thursday as an example of what can be achieved when seeking accountability.
Ms Boylan welcomed what she said was the “momentous” decision of the Attorney General.
“Getting to know and campaign alongside the families has been a privilege, their refusal to give up is an inspiration. They are heroes each and every one,” she said.
Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law said he was delighted for all those families who campaigned tirelessly and “faced down every obstacle”.
“This decision is a testament to their character and resilience. [It is] a privilege to be part of this journey,” he said.
“Over the years the Stardust families have been spectators in their fight for justice, today they enter the ring and from this day on they will be in control of their fight for the truth.”