Stardust inquiry: Miscarriage of justice left to fester

There is no greater heartache than the loss of a loved one in their prime. The resultant grief is made even harder to bear when there remain unanswered questions as to how and why that precious person died.
Stardust inquiry: Miscarriage of justice left to fester

The death of 48 young people at the Stardust club in north Dublin on Valentine’s night in 1981 remains one of the worst disasters in modern Irish history. It is also one of our great unsolved mysteries.

Along with those who died, a further 214 people were injured, at least a dozen suffering permanent scars or disfigurement, and many more still endure the mental anguish caused by the event.

Survivors and members of the families of the young people who perished in the Stardust disaster are still awaiting answers, more than 35 years after that tragic events. They never accepted the findings of the 1982 tribunal headed by the late High Court Judge Ronan Keane.

In fact, his finding that the fire was a result of “probable arson” was seen as an affront to the 800 patrons of the club on the night, as it implied that at least one of them was responsible.

That finding, from what has since been acknowledged to have been a flawed inquiry, exonerated the owners of the club from legal responsibility although there was clear evidence that there had been serious breaches of fire regulations and that some exit doors had been chained, preventing patrons from escaping.

It also allowed them to get IR£600,000 in compensation while survivors and the families of those who perished were each granted only a fraction of that amount under a government compensation scheme.

The original conclusion was changed in the light of an independent investigation conducted in 2009 by barrister Paul Coffey.

His conclusion that there was no evidence that arson was the cause was welcomed by the local community but his report raised more questions than answers. While it acknowledged that no patron was responsible it also found that the actual cause could not be determined.

It is little wonder, therefore, that the Stardust families are still demanding answers. Minister of state Finian McGrath has met with the families of the victims as efforts continued to broker a compromise in order to avert a possible Government defeat on a Dáil Private Members motion calling for a fresh inquiry into the disaster.

Stardust families have been given the runaround for years. The 2009 investigation was only granted after protests and, while the public record was amended to show arson was not the cause, the official position remains that new evidence must emerge to justify another inquiry.

But there is an obvious piece of evidence that the Government appears to be ignoring: Mr Justice Ronan Keane got it wrong and hundreds of people have suffered ever since.

By any rendering, a huge miscarriage of justice has been done to the survivors and to the memories of those who died. It is time, once and for all, to put things right. That can only be done by a new inquiry.

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