Stardust families set to hear verdicts as to how and why loved ones died

Five verdicts are available — accidental, misadventure, unlawful killing, open verdict and narrative

More than 40 years after the Stardust tragedy, families of those who perished in the 1981 nightclub fire will gather on Thursday afternoon at Dublin coroner’s court to hear 48 verdicts as to how and why their loved ones died.

The foreman of the 12-person jury will begin announcing the verdicts from 2pm, in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital, where the court has been sitting since April 2023.

More than 90 days of evidence and testimony from 373 witnesses have been heard at the inquiry into the deaths of 48 people, aged 16 to 27, in a fire in the north Dublin ballroom in the early hours of 14th February 1981.

Five verdicts are available — accidental, misadventure, unlawful killing, open verdict and narrative.


It is widely anticipated the verdict in respect of each death will be unlawful killing.

Lisa Lawlor, daughter of Francis (25) and Maureen (26) Lawlor who died in the blaze said on Thursday she would be “very emotional” when she hears verdicts in respect of her parents.

“I was just a one-year-old baby when they died. It has dominated my entire life. I hope tomorrow, it will mean my parents have the justice they have always deserved, after 43 years,” she said on Wednesday.

“I am 44 now. It is going to be such a relief that it has come to an end. It will be very emotional but I hope very rewarding. When you wait for so long for something like this, and it comes, it is worth the wait.”

Gertrude Barrett, whose eldest child Michael (17), died, when asked what the day would mean to her replied: “It won’t really make any difference to me. The next day will be the same and the day before. I still won’t have Michael. But he will get something. It will be vindication for Michael and for every one of them. When the Keane tribunal concluded in 1981 that Michael had the potential to be an arsonist, this verdict tomorrow, it will I hope give him back his identity and his good name. For all those who perished, it will be their day. That is it.”

The finding by the 1981 tribunal of investigation into the fire, chaired by Mr Justice Ronan Keane, that the “probable” cause of the fire was “deliberate” — that is, arson — was removed from the public record by the Oireachtas in 2009.

Shortly after 2pm coroner Dr Myra Cullinane told the jury she would accept simple majority verdicts having been told by the foreman it remained unable to reach unanimous verdicts. A short time later the five men and seven women jurors returned to the court. They had reached their verdicts, the foreman said.

The announcement would be deferred until Thursday at 2pm to allow completion of administrative matters, said Dr Cullinane, and “families to make arrangements” to attend the court in person or to observe online. She warned the jurors they should not discuss their deliberations or findings with any person and that to do so could be contempt of court.

The jurors deliberated for 11 days having been tasked with establishing facts around the circumstances of the blaze, including whether issues such as carpet tiles which were used to line the internal walls, polyurethane foam in the seats and the low ceiling height in the area where the fire was first seen inside the venue, contributed to the deaths.

They also had to establish the identity of each victim and the date, place and cause of their deaths, and finally return a verdict in respect of each.

Charging the jury last month Dr Cullinane said to return a verdict of unlawful killing they must “find that there has been a failure by a person or people, 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”.

The inquests were held following a long campaign by families and a direction in 2019 by then attorney general Séamus Woulfe, that they should be held. He said there had been an “insufficiency of inquiry” in the original 1982 inquests into the surrounding circumstances of the fire.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times