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The verdict families wanted and others didn’t

This was the verdict the families wanted.

Justice for the 48.

Speaking to the relatives at the start of these proceedings, and throughout, it was clear this was the outcome they were aiming for – confirmation that their loved ones were unlawfully killed in the Stardust that night in February 1981.

For them, after decades of campaigning, and after years of living with the stigma of the 1982 Keane finding that the fire was “probably caused deliberately”, this is, in the realms of these inquests, justice. Albeit justice 43 years on.

In her charge to the jury, the coroner said there was a “a very specific test” the jurors must apply to arrive at an unlawful killing verdict.

“You must find that there has been a failure by a person or persons to a very high degree to observe such a course of action as experience shows to be necessary if substantial injury to others is to be avoided,” she said, “and that such failure was a substantial cause of a death”.

She also said they had to be satisfied “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Yesterday the jury delivered it, the families’ jubilant. They feel vindicated, and that these lengthy inquests have been worth it.

It’s equally clear though, that other interested parties did not want this “unlawful killing” outcome.

As far back as 2022, before these inquests got under way, lawyers for Eamon Butterly, the former manager of the club, argued that such a verdict should not be open to the jury.

They argued in the High Court that their client would be the target of such a verdict, pointing out that the Coroner’s Act made it clear that no finding or verdict shall contain censure or exoneration of any person.

However, it was ruled that “unlawful killing” could be returned where no person was identified or identifiable as being responsible.

Family members of the Stardust victims pictured in the Garden of Remembrance after the verdicts were delivered (Pic:

In the final days of these inquests, Eamon Butterly tried again.

His legal team shuttled back and forth from the Coroner’s Court to the High Court, repeating their case to have the option of the verdict removed. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful.

There were others too who had argued for an alternative outcome.

Prior to the jury’s deliberations, lawyers for Dublin City Council – formerly Dublin Corporation – told the jurors there were verdicts other than “unlawful killing” open to them and that a “narrative verdict” was one they may consider. They stated such a verdict is usually available where the issues are “extremely complex”.

These inquests, and Keane before it, heard how no enforcement action was ever taken against the Stardust, despite the corporation knowing about blocked or obstructed exits at the club.

Yesterday afternoon the jury gave its verdict, and it was clear.

The obvious question is what now for the Stardust families? Does their campaign end here?

The families’ solicitor, Darragh Mackin, said he wanted the Government to apologise over how the Stardust relatives have been treated for the last four decades.

For the families and survivors, yesterday was one to celebrate.

But amidst any celebrating, such is the nature of the Stardust saga, sadness and anger will not be far away. Sadness – for those who died – and anger – that the journey to get to this point took so long.

One family member told me this verdict will not bring their loved one back, but it has restored their identity and dignity.

It took 43 years, but they got there in the end.

Justice for the 48.

Fight for justice: The long road to the Stardust inquests
Stardust victims taken ‘out of the darkness and into the light’

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