Justice for Stardust families as 2023 Inquest Commences | Fieldfisher
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Justice for Stardust families as 2023 Inquest Commences

Hannah Unger



On 25 April 2023, the long awaited inquest into the Stardust Fire, which claimed the lives of 48 young people and injured a further 214, commenced.
Key Inquiries to Date

From an administrative law perspective, it is timely to consider the history of the investigations/inquiries which have taken place to date in respect of this tragedy:
  • On 15 February 1981, the Government announced that a public Inquiry would be held pursuant to the provisions of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 and 1979. The Keane Tribunal sat for 122 days and 366 witnesses gave evidence. The Attorney General presented the evidence and the following parties were legally represented and were provided with witness statements in advance and were entitled to cross examine witnesses:
    • Dublin Corporation (i.e. the local authority within whose area the disaster had occurred),
    • the next of kin of the deceased and persons who suffered injury at the fire and
    • the owners and occupiers of the building where the fire occurred.
The Tribunal's function was to establish the truth as to the matters which were referred to it by the Oireachtas and to make recommendations in light of the truth so established. A report was prepared following the Tribunal which reached a number of conclusions and controversially found that the cause of the devastating fire was “probable arson”, essentially exonerating the club’s owners from legal responsibility. The report can be accessed here.
  • Between 01 – 04 March 1982, inquests were conducted into each of the deaths arising from the fire. The findings were limited to the medical cause of death in relation to each deceased. No findings were made concerning the cause or spread of the fire or the wider circumstances of each death.
  • In 2008, Paul Coffey SC was commissioned by the Government, following submissions by the Stardust Victims Committee, to examine the case for a renewed inquiry into the fire at the Stardust. Mr Coffey SC conducted a thorough review, assisted by experts. He concluded that the finding by the Keane Tribunal that the fire had been caused by arson was not objectively justifiable on the evidence. However, he came to the view that it would not be possible to establish the cause of the fire based on any new evidence available to him at that time. He recommended that a change of conclusion concerning the finding of arson should be placed on the public record by the Oireachtas, and that any further inquiry should only take place if this were not possible. He concluded that if a further inquiry were to be held, it should be limited to the purpose of establishing the cause of the fire.
  • On 31 March 2019, an application was made to the Attorney General (by relatives of the deceased) for fresh inquests, under section 24 of the Coroner’s Act 1962. The application was grounded upon fresh evidence which included seven witness statements, and a number of commentaries from experts suggesting that the determination by the Keane Tribunal of the cause and location of the original fire was or might be in error.
  • On 19 December 2019, having considered the submissions made to him, the Attorney General outlined his reasons for acceding to the relatives' request and he then formally directed the Dublin District Coroner  to hold fresh inquests into the deaths of all forty eight deceased persons. In particular, he wrote:
“This is because I consider that in the original inquests there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred, namely, a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire.”

Role of Coroner

Coroners are independent judicial officers of the State who inquire into sudden, unexplained and unexpected deaths including deaths due to accidents and those arising in suspicious circumstances. An inquest is an inquiry held in public by a Coroner.

An inquest is a fact-finding exercise, conducted where an individual has died in certain circumstances. The purpose of an inquest, conducted by a coroner with or without a jury, is to establish reliable answers to important factual questions as set out in section 18A of the Coroners Acts 1962 – 2019, namely:
  • The identity of the deceased
  • How he / she came by their death
  • The date of death
  • The place of his / her death
  • The circumstances in which the death occurred.
The inquest is a public enquiry to determine the truth. It is not a trial. It is an inquisitorial process to establish facts. An inquest is not a method of apportioning guilt or blame.

2023 Inquest

The 2023 Inquest is due to last six months and around 350 witnesses are set to be called to give evidence. A jury has been empanelled and Dr. Myra Cullinane will preside as Coroner. The inquests will be held at The Rotunda Foundation, The Pillar Room, Parnell St, Dublin 1 but will also be streamed remotely every day from 10.45am and can be accessed here.

Written by: Eimear Burke, Hannah Unger and Aoife Skeath


Areas of Expertise

Public and Regulatory