Cate McCurry, PA
The inquest into the Stardust fire will attempt to allay rumours and suspicion surrounding the tragedy in which 48 people died, a pre-inquest hearing has been told.
The fifth pre-inquest heard how previous inquiries into the events at the Artane nightclub on Valentine’s Day 1981 were “flawed” and left a vacuum of unanswered questions.
The hearing took place at the Dublin District Coroner’s Court, sitting at the RDS in Dublin, ahead of the full inquest scheduled for October.
A fresh inquest is being held after former attorney general Seamus Woulfe ruled that one should be held in the public interest.
More than 800 people attended the disco at the popular venue and despite two inquiries into the disaster, nobody has ever been held responsible.
Senior counsel Michael O’Higgins, who represents the majority of the families, said he is “hesitant” to put on record any rumours that have circulated since the tragedy.
“When you get a set of circumstances where there were inquiries that were either not complete or found to be flawed, and a large amount of people who are grieving and not getting answers to questions, there is a vacuum, and that is a vacuum which gets filled,” he told the court.
“The purpose of an inquest is to make a very real attempt to allay those rumours and at least at the end can say, certain facts were established.”
He said that the inquest will help “abate” the situation where things which “exist in myth” are repeated as reality.
A number of submissions were put forward to Dublin coroner Dr Myra Cullinane, who will determine the scope of inquiries as part of the inquest.
The inquest has been beset with delays, including rows over legal aid between the victims’ families and the Department of Justice.
Mr O’Higgins told the coroner’s court that all parties want the full inquest to start as soon as possible.
The families have submitted 11 issues they have asked the coroner to consider before the full inquest begins late this year.
Mr O’Higgins said there is a “very heavy onus” on those involved in the inquest to do everything “within our grasp to get this as right as is humanly possible”.
“It is first and foremost about the families and it’s opportunity for them to try and find out the answer to questions, many key questions which remain unanswered for many years,” he added.
“Many questions which regrettably will remain unanswered or likely to remain unanswered in the absence of very, very diligent perseverance.
“It’s submitted that matters raised by us are both realistic in terms of the matter of which we are about to embark on and matters which the court will hopefully conclude.”
He said that the inquest should probe how and why the fire started, the design and condition of the building, fittings, fixtures and installations as well as safety and escape measures.
The court was also told that it should consider whether these “adequately minimised the risk of fire or harm in a fire”.
“I acknowledge that any examination of a witness in that regard, or any line of inquiry isn’t for the purpose of either condemning someone in the sense of a finding of any civil liability or any condemnation of criminal liability or any question of that sort is designed to exonerate any particular individual,” Mr O’Higgins added.
“The higher courts in Ireland have pointed out that while there is an absolute prohibition on such lines, it doesn’t mean that matters can’t be investigated which of themselves in another forum might give rise to form of liability.
“The purpose of the inquest is to establish facts.
“If any of our list of issues might appear to be detrimental to any individual, we are not seeking a detriment, we are simply seeking to establish facts as in the dicta expressed in the Supreme Court.
“It’s a matter of record, there have been a number of previous inquiries, most of it, if not all, appear to have deficits and some have retrospectively been found to have been very substantially flawed.
“An additional factor in an inquest of this sort is the passage of time because it is not a friend to litigation as it complicates matters.
“Because there have been other inquiries, there is a very heavy onus on everyone participating in this process to do everything within our grasp to get this as right as is humanly possible.”
The coroner said she will consider the submissions and publish a preliminary determination of scope.