Stardust: Families cheer as unlawful killing verdict returned for all 48 victims

The blaze happened in Artane, Dublin in 1981

Relatives of those killed in the Stardust fire gather at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin
The Stardust fire claimed the lives of 48 people (David Young/PA)

A verdict of unlawful killing has been returned by the jury of the Stardustfire inquests for all 48 people who died in the 1981 Dublin nightclub disaster.

The devastating blaze at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin, broke out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1981.

The jury foreman said it had reached the same verdict into the deaths of each individual.

Some family members of the victims jumped to their feet and clapped at the verdict, while others were moved to tears as they remained in their seat.

Others embraced each other as soon as the foreman said “unlawful killing”.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane paid tribute to the “persistence and commitment” of the families who had campaigned for fresh inquests.

“To the families I acknowledge the deaths of these 48 young people is a source of ongoing grief to those who loved them and it remains the defining loss of their lives,” she said.

“However, I hope that family members will have taken some solace from the fact that these fresh inquests were held, that the facts surrounding the deaths were examined in detail, that moving testimony was heard from many of those involved in the events of the night and, most importantly, that you the families felt fully involved in proceedings, however difficult it was to hear all of the evidence.

“The fact that these inquests have been held at all is in no small part due to the persistence and commitment of families over the years.

“And, finally, we remember those 48 young people who lost their lives on that fateful night. It is their lives that we’ve sought to vindicate by way of these inquests.”

Directed by the Republic’s then-attorney general Seamus Woulfe, the inquests have been the longest held in the country, with proceedings commencing a year ago.

The foreman of the jury told coroner Myra Cullinane on Wednesday that majority verdicts had been reached after 11 days of deliberation.

The coroner deferred the delivery of the verdicts until Thursday so family members could gather at Dublin District Coroner’s Court to hear the result.

Taoiseach Simon Harris described the Stardust tragedy as “one of the darkest moments in our history”.

“A heartbreaking tragedy because of the lives that were lost, the families that were changed forever, and the long, drawn-out struggle for justice that followed,” he said.

In a statement after a jury at inquests into the deaths of the 48 people in the Dublin nightclub disaster in 1981 returned a verdict of unlawful killing, Mr Harris remembered those who lost their lives and paid tribute to their families for pursuing truth and justice “to ensure that such a disaster never happens again”.

He said the government will consider the verdict in full, and the recommendations of the jury.

“I want to acknowledge and thank the coroner, and her team and the jurors,” he said.

“48 young people never came home that night, but as Taoiseach I want to say this to their families; You never gave up on justice for them, you never let Ireland forget about them. They were never alone, and our country owes you a great debt for that.”

In the Dáil, Leaders’ Questions at noon began with Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty stating that their thoughts were with the families of those who died in the Stardust club.

“They have waited, as we all know, four decades for answers to what happened to their loved ones at that time, and they faced many, many obstacles including those put in their way by this state,” Mr Doherty said.

Mr Martin said: “My thoughts and all of our thoughts are with the families of those who died in the Stardust tragedy in 1981,.”

“This will be a huge moment for the families and indeed for the entire country because the Stardust tragedy is seared on the collective consciousness of the Irish people and the tenacity of the families and their success in securing this inquest has been a service to all in society.”

The coroner deferred the delivery of the verdicts until 2pm on Thursday to give family members of those who died in the tragedy time to gather at Dublin District Coroner’s Court.

The devastating blaze at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin, broke out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1981.

The fresh inquests, which were directed by Ireland’s attorney general, have been the longest held in Ireland, with proceedings commencing one year ago.

On Wednesday, the foreman told Ms Cullinane that the jury’s seven women and five men could not reach a unanimous verdict.

The coroner then said she would accept a simple majority of seven and allowed the jury’s deliberations to continue.

Fifteen minutes later, the jury returned and confirmed it had reached majority verdicts.

Ms Cullinane said she would defer the announcement of the verdicts and findings to Thursday to allow interested persons and family members to make arrangements to attend court or watch online.