Stardust inquest 'an opportunity for families to finally get answers'

Stardust inquest 'an opportunity for families to finally get answers'

Victims family members Phyllis and Maurice McHugh, Lorraine Keegan, Antoinette Keegan, Pauline Braymer, Gertrude Barrett ,Carrol Barrett, Terry Jones, Pat Dunne, Samantha Mangan arriving for the fifth pre-inquest hearing at the RDS in Dublin. Picture: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos

Everyone involved in the Stardust inquest must do everything within their grasp "to get it as right as is humanly possible," a senior counsel has said.

The fifth pre-inquest hearing into the nightclub fire that killed 48 young people in 1981 was held in Dublin's RDS on Wednesday, with families and survivors officially invited to attend for the first time.

While laying out his view of the scope of the inquiry, Michael O'Higgins SC, representing the majority of the families involved, said the Stardust fire represented an event that "if you're a particular age, you can say where you were on the particular night, that's the kind of impression made".

"There have been a number of previous inquiries. Most, if not all, appear to have deficits, some have retrospectively found to be substantially flawed," he said.

"Other inquires have been unsatisfactory, and there is a heavy onus on everyone participating in this process to do everything within our grasp to get this as right as is humanly possible.

"It's about the families and it's an opportunity for them to try to find out the answers to questions which remain unanswered for many years and many questions which regrettably will remain unanswered or are likely to remain unanswered, not in the absence of diligent perseverance on their part."

There is a need, working within limitations of time that has passed, to establish those facts, that's what we respectfully submit is centre stage here.

Mr O'Higgins stated that the inquest should investigate how and why the fire started, how it spread, the design and condition of the building, including safety and escape measures, and whether they adequately reduced the risk of fire and harm.

"Any examination, any line of inquiry in that regard isn't for the purpose of either condemning someone in the sense of, finding of civil liability or condemnation of anyone or criminal liability, similarly no question of that sort is a desire to exonerate an individual."

He also called for "as much as an examination of witnesses on as wide a basis" subject to restrictions.

Mr O'Higgins added that "the passage of time is not a friend to litigation and it complicates matters" and noted that "there were a lot of rumours floating around" on which they would not be focusing.

"When you get a significant event, which this undoubtedly was, and when for a variety of reasons there were inquires that were not complete or faulty, or flawed and large number of people grieving and not getting answers, that creates a vacuum which gets filled, the purpose which an inquest can serve is to make a real attempt, to allay those rumours and at least say the facts were established and that abates the situation where things which exist in myth are repeated as reality."

The legal team for the families say they expect to have around 20 new witness statements to submit to the inquest.

Legal representatives for the other parties, including Dublin City Council and the building owners, the Butterly family, were all mostly in agreement on the scope of the inquest, and called for a "focused inquiry".

The next hearing will not be for a number of months.

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