A dossier containing new evidence which may finally uncover the cause of the Stardust dancehall blaze, which killed 48 young people, is to be given to the Government in the coming weeks, it emerged tonight.
As over 100 families, friends and neighbours of those killed and injured gathered at the site to mark the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, solicitor Greg O’Neill revealed international experts had given their opinions on how such devastation was caused in a new report.
It is understood an upstairs store room and an adjoining electrics room, which relatives claim had a history of short circuits and small fires, have been pinpointed as the possible source of the blaze in the dossier.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dáil this evening that if new evidence became available, the inquiry would reopen and he insisted he would meet relatives if he received a formal request to do so.
“We are preparing a complete dossier to deliver to the Government within the next two to three weeks,” Mr O’Neill said.
“Looking at the evidence from competent scientists and an objective viewpoint, with all the material that is there, nobody could sleep at night feeling secure in their mind that the conclusions of the Stardust tribunal were safe.”
Almost 850 people were in the Stardust when the fire broke out on Valentine’s night 1981. Some 25 young men and 23 women perished in the blaze. Eleven others were severely disfigured, disabled or burnt and in all 214 people suffered injuries.
The average age of those who died was 19.
As over 100 families, friends and neighbours of those killed and injured gathered in Artane, north Dublin, for a peaceful vigil at the scene of the blaze, it emerged the Stardust owners, the Butterly family, had leased a premises on the site for a cocktail bar to be called the Silver Swan – its original name at the time of the blaze.
Mr O’Neill called for a new inquiry: “There has to be a new inquiry. The issues and whatever the inquiry turns up can be given to the gardai.
“We have a body of scientific experts and opinions who have prepared reports.”
It is understood the report will state that flammable cleaning fluids, gallons of cooking oil, floor wax and toilet rolls were kept in the store and acted as accelerants when the fire broke out.
It has also been suggested they may have been responsible for the fireball many witnesses saw exploding through the roof of the hall.
Many of those who assisted the families in the report have been featured in a special RTE Prime Time documentary on the blaze.
Former chief fire officer Tony Gillick is among those to have advised the families’ legal team.
Mr O’Neill also said questions would be raised within the report as to whether corporate responsibility for the loss of life could be taken into account. But while he insisted he would not play the blame game, Mr O’Neill said arson appeared to many of the families to be the easy way out.
“The finding of arson did tend to leave people off the hook. You can take all the fire safety precautions in the world but if someone wants to go in and start a fire there’s little anyone can do,” he added.
Christine Keegan, who lost two of her daughters in the tragedy, said a solemn and dignified protest would be held outside the bar.
“That is a graveyard as far as I am concerned. It’s not fair that he should open it … but that’s the kind of man he is,” she said. “It’s profit before people.”
A secretary at the Butterly Business Park said that the Butterly family would not be running the new business and that they had leased out the premises.
“They do own it [the premises] but they have leased it out,” she said.
“It has not been open for a number of months for refurbishment and I am not aware that it is due to open tonight.”
The Butterly’s have also applied for planning permission to alter the car parks on the site. The Keegan’s said they will fight every move to have the premises open again as a bar.
The Butterly’s were cleared of any responsibility for the fire. An inquiry headed by Mr Justice Ronan Keane stated the cause would probably never be known, but it was most likely that it was started deliberately.
But 25 years on relatives of the dead and injured are still demanding answers.
The findings of the Keane inquiry allowed Butterly to secure IR£600,000 (€762,000) compensation – the largest single payout – even though he was heavily criticised.
It said the Butterly’s were negligent. It found staff were poorly trained, the Corporation had been misled on fire safety and that exit doors had been obstructed on the night of the fire.