‘This is the biggest inquest in the history of the State but at this rate it’s also going to be the longest’
It follows this week’s decision by the High Court to reject a challenge by former Stardust manager Eamon Butterly to the new inquest into the deaths of 48 people at the Dublin nightclub more than 41 years ago.
He and his family owned the club at the time the fire broke out in the early hours of Valentine's Day 1981.
Mr Butterly wanted the court to rule that a verdict of unlawful killing was not open to the jury at the inquest and that the coroner should give the jury this direction at the outset.
However, Mr Justice Charles Meenan found a verdict of unlawful killing was permitted where no person was identified or identifiable as being responsible for the killing.
Speaking to sundayworld.com, Stardust campaigner and survivor Antoinette Keegan demanded that the coroner now set a date for the inquest after the challenge was rejected.
“We need the coroner to give us a start date now,” she said. “We’ve waited long enough.
“It’s actually a disgrace. This is the biggest inquest in the history of the State but at this rate it’s also going to be the longest.
“Why delay any longer? We’re ready to move, our legal team is ready, everyone is ready but we need a start date and the sooner the better, so we can all move on.
“It’s going to be horrendous,” Antoinette added. “We're going to hear things that we've never heard before (from the evidence) but it needs to be done.
“The Attorney General ordered the new inquest in 2019 and here we are going towards 2023 and not one single hearing has taken place.
Antoinette also paid tribute and offered condolences to the family of Mr Bill Redmond, a ‘hero” fireman who had saved “many lives” at the Stardust.
Mr Redmond, formerly of Walkinstown and Dublin Fire Brigade, Tara Street, and other firefighters were called out to the Stardust nightclub in Artane
Taking to social media, Justice for the Stardust48 paid tribute to Mr Redmond following his passing.
They wrote: "Sad news, Firefighter Bill Redmond passed away recently. He was one of the many heroes who saved many lives by repeatedly entering the Stardust on the night 14th Feb 1981. Rest in Peace HERO.”
“Since the announcement of the inquest in September 2019, we’ve lost my mam (Christine Keegan, who led the Stardust campaign for many years) in July 2020,” Antoinette said. “Eugene Kelly passed away three months later. There have been about 50 family members who have passed away.
“These are all siblings and parents of the victims and survivors. Hoe many more will die before they get to see justice for their loved ones?”
Over the years, there have been a number of inquiries including a government appointed tribunal which found the "more probable explanation of the fire is that it was caused deliberately." Inquests in 1982 recorded deaths in accordance with the medical evidence.
The families of the deceased have long campaigned to have the tribunal finding overturned and for new inquests to be held.
In 2008, then senior counsel Paul Coffey was appointed to examine the case for a new inquiry and he found the finding in 1982 that the fire was deliberately started was not objectively justifiable on the evidence.
A further review, based on new evidence, by a retired judge in 2017, found a further inquiry was not warranted.
Then, following further campaigning by the families, the Attorney General directed a new inquest be held.
Mr Butterly had also sought a declaration from the court that his rights had been breached by the failure to provide him with free legal aid at the inquest in circumstances where a verdict of unlawful killing would be available to the coroner.
In a separate judgment on that issue, Mr Justice Meenan refused the application.
The judge said while Mr Butterly is entitled to fair procedures in the course of the inquest, these procedures are not of the order that arise in an adversarial process.
Mr Butterly is not a party and is not defending himself against allegations as might be the case in civil or criminal hearings, he said.