Timeline of events in 40-year campaign by Stardust families

The 1981 Stardust fire, which claimed 48 young lives, is one of the worst tragedies in the history of the Irish state.

Four decades later, after the longest inquest in the history of the state, a jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing for all 48 people who died in the Dublin nightclub disaster.

Here are some of the key events in the victims’ families’ campaign for answers.

– February 13/14 1981

Hundreds of revellers try to escape through fire exits when a blaze breaks out the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day. Many of the exits are chained closed, while some windows are blocked by iron bars.

Police stand outside the main entrance to the Stardust venue in Dublin
A tribunal of inquiry in November 1981 concluded the blaze was probably caused by arson (Tony Harris/PA)

Many people are crushed in the rush to get out, others die from inhaling poisonous gases.

– November 1981

After 122 days, a tribunal of inquiry under Mr Justice Ronan Keane concludes the blaze was probably caused by arson rather than accident, a finding contested by relatives ever since.

Stardust manager Eamon Butterly is allowed to claim £580,000 compensation for “malicious damage” from the state.

– May 1985

John Keegan, whose daughters Martina and Mary died in the blaze, sets up the Stardust Victims’ Committee.

– December 1986

Mr Keegan dies the same day as he loses a Supreme Court case for personal injuries following the deaths of his daughters.

The group campaigns for a new inquiry for the next two decades.

A person touches their Stardust lapel pin
The victims’ families have been campaigning for 40 years (Brian Lawless/PA)

– November 2003

An independent report by Geraldine Foy, a researcher for the Stardust families, is given to the Department of Justice. They maintain it contains expert evidence which disputes the original tribunal’s findings.

– February 2006

The 25th anniversary of the Stardust fire, and Prime Time broadcasts a controversial programme based on Ms Foy’s report.

More than 200 relatives and friends of the Stardust victims begin a 13-week protest at the site of the fire over plans by Mr Butterly to open a pub at the site on the anniversary.

– April 2006

The Stardust Committee presents a dossier of findings called Nothing But The Truth to government.

– December 2006

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern announces an external independent examination of all evidence relating to the fire. The bodies of five victims, buried in a communal plot in St Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton, would be exhumed for identification. The five victims are Richard Bennett; Michael Ffrench; Murtagh Kavanagh; Eamon Loughman; and Paul Wade.

The fire-blackened Stardust venue in Dublin
Some people were crushed trying to escape the Stardust venue, while others died from inhaling poisonous gases (PA)

– June 2007

All five men are identified with specialist DNA testing in the UK and given separate burials.

– March 2008

Stardust families withdraw support from a government-organised review of new information, claiming chair John Gallagher SC has represented gardai at inquests into the deaths.

– July 2008

Barrister Paul Coffey takes over the independent examination of files and hands the government his report six months later.

– January 2009

Families express relief as the report rules there is no evidence to prove the cause of the fire was arson.

– February 2014

Gardai launch a criminal investigation into concerns over evidence from a number of witnesses at the 1981 tribunal.

– January 2016

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will not order prosecutions of witnesses who allegedly committed perjury during the 1981 tribunal.

Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar announces the attorney general will look ‘afresh’ at a request to hold a second inquest (Niall Carson/PA)

– March 2017

The Government appoints retired judge Mr Justice Pat McCartan to examine potential new evidence into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy. He is asked to make a recommendation on whether a commission of investigation into the fire is warranted.

– November 2017

Judge McCartan rules that no new independent inquiry is warranted and criticises the evidence presented to him. The families criticise the report as “rude and aggressive”.

– November 2018

The families say they have discovered new evidence, through a Freedom of Information request as well as previously unheard witness testimony, and will petition the attorney general for a new inquest.

– November 2018

Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar tells the Dail that the attorney general will look “afresh” at a request to hold a second inquest.

– March 2019

An application is made to the attorney general for fresh inquests. A 37-page submission is filed by Phoenix Law on behalf of Antoinette Keegan and relatives of 42 of the 48 people who died in the fire.

– September 2019

The then-attorney general Seamus Woulfe SC directs that fresh inquests should be held into the deaths. He says at the time: “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.”

Stardust survivor Antoinette Keegan, who lost her two sisters in the fire, after the verdict
Stardust survivor Antoinette Keegan, who lost her two sisters in the fire, reacts following the inquest verdict (Brian Lawless/PA)

– October 2020

The first pre-inquest hearing takes place at the Dublin District Coroner’s Court.

– November 2022

Former Stardust manager Eamon Butterly fails in a High Court challenge that the inquest could not make findings of unlawful killing.

– April 2023

The Stardust fire inquests commence at The Pillar Room.

– April 18 2024

A verdict of unlawful killing is returned by the jury in the Stardust fire inquests for all 48 people who died in the disaster.