New Stardust Inquests for Victims of 1981 Fire

All the pain we’ve been put through, all the stuff we’ve gone through for the truth. This is what we fought for, campaigned for, and what we wanted.

This is how Selina McDermott greeted the news on 25 September that there will be a new inquest in to the Stardust fire. Selina’s sister Marcella (16) and her brothers, George (19) and William (22) died on the night of 14 February 1981 at the Valentine’s Day disco at the Stardust nightclub, Artane. In all, 48 people died that night with another 11 badly disfigured, 214 physically injured and hundreds, too, traumatised ever since.

Starting in a first-floor storeroom, a fire that night developed rapidly, in part because despite a lack of planning-permission, flammable materials were present in great quantity, including nearly 250kg of cooking oil in five drums. Although the Fire Brigade were alerted in minutes a blast of heat and the melting of ceiling material, followed by the lights going out created a catastrophic situation.

The Butterly Business Park, the site of the Stardust Fire of 1981

Most of the dead and injured came from Artane, Kilmore and greater Coolock, where the community has never ceased to suffer. Not only because of the pain of the losses, but also because of the way in which our political and legal system has failed us.

Independent Left Councillor John Lyons’ response to the announcement of the new inquests was to welcome it as hugely important but he added that this should never have taken so long.

The families of the victims and the survivors of the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state have been through hell and back many times over the last thirty eight years, from the initial political cover up by way of the Keane tribunal to years of political indifference, and the more recent con job that was the McCartan Report, which can only be described as a disgraceful insult, the families kept fighting, kept demanding answers as to how forty eight young people died in that building.

They have been vindicated by the decision of the Attorney General to open up new inquests into the forty eight deaths. But the survivors and the families and friends of the victims should not have had to wait nearly four decades to get the answers they deserve. If the fire had taken place in Blackrock rather than Artane, there is no way that people would be left waiting so long for justice. The working class communities of Coolock and Artane know this to be true as the treatment they have received from the Irish state, successive Fianna Fail and Fine Gael-Labour Party has been nothing short of a scandal.

The fact that the Keane tribunal of 1981 found that the fire was probably caused by arson – a finding that was always disputed and eventually ruled out – meant that the owners, the Butterly family not only escaped compensation claims and therefore proper accountability for their actions, which included the obstruction of fire exits, but they were awarded IR£580,000 in compensation.

The Stardust had been developed without planning permission and the fire authorities had denied Paddy Butterly permission to retain the club unless he installed another fire escape.

Although a 633-page was sent by the Gardai to the DPP, the only person to face charges arising from the tragedy was John Keegan, whose two daughters died that night, for confronting Paddy Butterly.

The Butterly family were – and probably still are – highly networked politically. In his memoirs, published just for family and friends but leaked, Paddy Butterly reveals that a former economic advisor to Labour Tanaiste Dick Spring worked for the family for two years. While he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, Fianna Fáil’s Kevin Boland had a chat over coffee with Paddy Butterly nearly every morning. “We were all Finna Failers”, reports Butterly, and adds that Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch asked Butterly to join Taca, their party fundraising group for wealthy businessmen.
‘‘What you had these people for,” explains Butterly, “was to help get things. I don’t mean by giving them money. But if you wanted to know something about your business or you wanted someone who could do something, you didn’t get the answers by writing into the papers. You asked these people.”

The injustice of the treatment of the Stardust families and their lack of access to political power in comparison to the situation of the Butterly’s explains why it has taken so long to obtain this inquest. And why it has been such an uphill struggle.

Independent Left’s Niamh McDonald paid tribute to those who never gave up the pursuit of justice:

I would like to congratulate the families on their sheer determination that got them this inquiry, without their hard work and persistence the establishment would have been very happy to see no justice being served. It is a disgrace that this government and successive governments have forced grieving families to fight for justice.

When, in 2006, Eamon Butterly, owner of the Stardust, opened The Silver Swan pub in the business park where the fire took place, protesters played the following Christy Moore song for ten weeks outside the bar, every night between six and eight pm.

They Never Came Home, was released in 1985 and was banned, with Christy Moore being found guilty of contempt of court for having written it. It remains a powerful statement on a terrible tragedy and a political system that has only contempt for working class communities.

They Never Came Home Lyrics

Christy Moore

St Valentine's day comes around once a year,
All our thought turn to love as the day it draws near,
When sweethearts and darlings, husbands and wives,
Pledge love and devotion for the rest of their lives.
As day turns to evening soon night-time does fall,
Young people preparing for the Valentine's Ball,
As the night rings with laughter some people still mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Down to the Stardust they all made their way
The bouncers stood back as they lined up to pay
The records are spinning there's dancing as well
Just how the fire started sure no one can tell.
In a matter of seconds confusion did reign
The room was in darkness fire exits were chained
The firefighters wept for they could not hide,
Their anger and sorrow for those left inside.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
All around the city the bad news it spread
There's a fire in the Stardust there's 48 dead
Hundreds of children are injured and maimed
And all just because the fire exits were chained.
Our leaders were shocked, grim statements were made
They she'd tears in the graveyard as the bodies were laid
The victims have waited in vain for 4 years
It seems like our leaders she'd crocodile tears.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Half a million was spent on solicitor's fees,
A fortune to the owner and his family
It's hard to believe not one penny came
To the working class people who suffered the pain.
Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to years
Our laws favour the rich or so it appears
A woman still waits for her lads to come home
Injustice breeds anger and that's what's been done.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.