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Fire tragedy Stardust families 'have a right to facts' about blaze, pre-inquest hearing told

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Damien, Lorraine, Suzanne and Antoinette Keegan, who lost relatives Mary and Martina Keegan in the Stardust disaster

Damien, Lorraine, Suzanne and Antoinette Keegan, who lost relatives Mary and Martina Keegan in the Stardust disaster

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Damien, Lorraine, Suzanne and Antoinette Keegan, who lost relatives Mary and Martina Keegan in the Stardust disaster

Fresh inquests into the 1981 Stardust fire disaster should be a pathway to justice for relatives and the community of Artane, a solicitor for 44 of the families has told a pre-inquest hearing into the blaze.

Darragh Mackin told Dublin Coroner's Court that the families and community had been "criminalised" by allegations of arson and claimed there had been a state-sponsored cover-up as to its cause.

New inquests into the deaths of the 48 victims are set to be heard next year following the instructions last December from the then Attorney General Séamus Woulfe.

Justice

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane outlined the facts of the disaster, saying that on the night of February 13, 1981, a Valentine's disco dancing competition was held at the Stardust Ballroom in Artane.

"There had been some 420 people in attendance, and the majority of those were between the ages of 18 and 25 from the surrounding areas of Artane, Kilmore and Coolock," she said.

"In the early hours of the morning on February 14, a fire broke out on the premises and, ultimately, took the lives of 48 persons who were all in attendance."

She said it was the Attorney General's view that the holding of new inquests was in the public interest as well as in the interest of justice.

"Where a disaster of the magnitude of the Stardust Ballroom fire occurs, the families of the victims are entitled to a public revelation of the facts.

"The community as a whole should be satisfied that the truth should emerge," she told the pre-inquest hearing.

A letter from Mr Woulfe, which gave rise to the new inquests, was read to the court.

In it, he outlined how inquests had been held in 1982 to record how the deaths occurred.

"But there was no reference to the surrounding circumstances, in particular the cause or causes of the fire," he wrote.

"It does not appear that questions as to the cause or causes of the fire were canvassed to sufficient degree, if at all.

"I therefore consider that at the original inquest there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred."

He added that the holding of fresh inquests was "advisable".

Dr Cullinane said the new inquests would be "entirely fresh" and would not be affected by the findings of the previous inquests or any other investigation.

Appeal

"No part of the inquests will be to review or adjudicate on findings of any previous investigations," she said.

"These will be entirely new coroner's enquiries."

Dr Cullinane also made an appeal for any members of the public who may have any information in relation to the fire to come forward.

"There is an appeal for any eyewitness who has not previously come forward to do so if they may be of assistance to the inquiry," she said.

"If you believe you have evidence that can assist these inquests, please do not keep it to yourself."

Solicitor Mr Mackin said that until this point in time, families who have fought relentlessly for 39 years had been "met with obstacle upon obstacle, failed investigation after failed investigation, in what we will say is a state-sponsored cover-up to what actually happened".

He said the inquests will hear from a mother and father who lost their only child in the fire and a daughter who became orphaned as a result of the events that night.

They will also hear from a family whose father, a fireman, was intimidated should he speak out, and a community where sections were criminalised by an allegation of arson.

Mr Mackin also appealed to Dr Cullinane that the inquests should ensure open justice and make as much documentation from the future inquests as possible available to the public.

"We would say that up until this point, it has been a situation of hear no evil, see no evil and certainly speak no evil," he said.

Relatives of victims of the disaster gathered outside the Coroner's Court before the pre-inquest hearing with photos of their lost loved ones.

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