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Stardust inquests: Butterly insists it was council’s responsibility to veto use of carpet tiles

Eamon Butterly, former manager of the Stardust nightclub in north Dublin where 48 people died in a fire in 1981, has insisted it was not his responsibility to understand planning conditions attached to the use of carpets tiles on internal walls of the venue.

Mr Butterly, on his third day in the witness box at Dublin coroner’s court on Tuesday, reiterated his view it was the responsibility of the local authority, Dublin corporation – now Dublin City Council – to veto their use, but they had failed to.

Fresh inquests into the deaths of 48 people, aged 16 to 27, in the early hours of February 14th, 1981 are under way following a 2019 direction by then attorney general Séamus Woulfe that they be held as the original 1982 inquests failed to sufficiently investigate the surrounding circumstances of the disaster.

The inquests have heard carpet-tiles used to line most of the venue’s internal wall played a significant role in the rapid spread of the fire.

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In 1976, when planning permission was being sought to convert a former food-processing factory on Kilmore Road, Artane into a ballroom, Dublin corporation’s chief fire officer stipulated carpet-tiles on walls must have a Class 1 surface-spread of flame.

The tiles used in the Stardust, however, had a Class 3 or 4 surface-spread.

Mr Butterly, whose family company Scott’s Foods owned the Stardust, has outlined how the supplier of the tiles provided a fire-certificate which certified their safety when used on floors. It was provided to Dublin Corporation which granted permission on condition that the tiles complied with the fire-safety conditions.

On Tuesday Michael O’Higgins SC for families of ten of the dead said Mr Butterly had had an “obligation” to understand what Class 1 surface spread meant and to ascertain whether the tiles met the standard.

Mr Butterly said he relied on the late Harold Gardner, who acted as architect for the conversion project, to understand planning conditions. Mr O’Higgins said Mr Gardner had not been qualified as an architect and had not been employed to supervise the conversion project.

“I saw him every day,” said Mr Butterly. “He was a gentleman.” He said he spoke to Mr Gardner, the carpet-tiles salesman, Declan Conway, and to his father, the late Patrick Butterly, about the condition that the tiles have a Class 1 spread.

“We got the proper certificate and the corporation agreed to put them up. And if the corporation didn’t agree to putting them up we wouldn’t have put them up ... We didn’t put them until we got the permission of Dublin Corporation.”

Mr O’Higgins asked him why he took no steps to inform himself of what a class 1 surface spread of flame meant.

“I expected that if Dublin corporation were happy with whatever the spread of flame was and they were happy to allow us to put them up on a wall, they were happy and I was happy then,” Mr Butterly said.

“You knew what the conditions were?”

“Yes.”

“You didn’t know what surface spread of flame test was.”

“No.”

“So, surely as night follows day you ought to have found out what it meant?,” Mr O’Higgins asked.

“Well, surface, no. The surface spread of flame was like flame as it spread. Is that what you mean?”

“It had a particular meaning Mr Butterly which you might not have been expected to know. But that didn’t relieve you of the obligation of finding out.”

“I assumed that if the Corporation ... that they would know and they would say, ‘No you can’t”

“You never asked your own architect?”

“I’d say I did. I can’t remember.”

“I am suggesting to you that it is baffling that you would not ask what it meant.”

“Right.”

“Is it a bit of an arrogant approach that you wouldn’t bother asking the architect something you clearly knew nothing about? Was it that you just coudn’t be bothered?”

“No, no.”

He said he appreciated the laying of the tiles on the walls may, as described by Mr O’Higgins, “have had very serious consequences.”

“Do you think it’s acceptable to be presenting something not knowing what it is they are looking for?”

“I was asked to get a certificate. I didn’t know what class 1 was but I knew the corporation would know ... I asked the person supplying the tiles to get the certificate. And he got the certificate. I didn’t know what it meant. Mr Gardner gave it to the Corporation ... and the corporation knowing these tiles were going on the wall were there on a daily basis.”