Stardust families undeterred as inquiry denied

Survivors of the Stardust fire and families of the dead have vowed to continue their fight for a fresh inquiry despite a Government-commissioned review concluding there was no new evidence to support another investigation.

A report by retired judge Pat McCartan yesterday dismissed outright 17 issues t raised by the Stardust Victims Committee, which said they were grounds for a new inquiry.

The families rejected his conclusions and said their next move would be to seek leave for judicial review to challenge the report in the High Court.

Antoinette Keegan, whose sisters, Mary and Martina, died in the fire in which she suffered serious injuries, said the report would not end their campaign.

“We’re full of fighting spirit. There is no way this report is getting accepted as the end of the matter. We’re not letting this go,” she said.

The St Valentine’s Day fire in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, in 1981 killed 48 young people and officially injured 214, although the Stardust Victims’ Compensation Tribunal, established five years later, acknowledged the physical suffering and mental trauma of 823 injured and bereaved people, while recognising that many others excluded from the tribunal had endured intense grief.

The original tribunal of inquiry, chaired by Justice Ronan Keane, concluded the fire was probably a case of arson and that it had likely started in seating — although Justice Keane’s report acknowledged there was no firm evidence of this.

The findings were devastating for the families while enabling the owners of Stardust, who had flouted safety regulations, to claim substantial compensation.

A government-ordered review carried out by barrister Paul Coffey and published in 2009 established there was no evidence of arson and that the official record should be changed to reflect this. It also said the cause of the fire could not be found.

After more campaigning, the McCartan review was ordered earlier this year with the task of establishing if there was any fresh evidence to warrant a full inquiry.

In his 50-page assessment, Judge McCartan said: “There is a very important difference between information that amounts to new evidence and information that supports a new theory as to the cause of the fire.

“It is only if it is found that there is new evidence as to the cause of the fire that a new inquiry can be recommended.

“Having considered all the material submitted by the committee, there is no new or updated evidence disclosed in the meaning of the terms of this assessment and no new enquiry is warranted.”

Gertrude Barrett, whose son Michael died in the fire, said she would not give up her fight to honour his memory by establishing the truth behind the tragedy.

“In 36 years I’ve learned a lot about the Irish State,” she said. “I’ve learned it doesn’t do corporate responsibility and it doesn’t do accountability. That has to change.

“I’ll never be happy. Happiness doesn’t come into my life. I died years ago and I just go through motions. So this report can’t hurt me. It just makes me more determined.”

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