Stardust: How the Northern Ireland inquest model provides template for families seeking justice

Coronial process was used for Hillsborough and Ballymurphy inquests

“This is our Hillsborough,” Antoinette Keegan, who survived the 1981 Stardust disaster and lost her sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16), said on Tuesday as the inquests into the deaths of 48 young people in the early hours of February 14th, 1981, began.

For the first time in many years the mood among families gathered for what are likely to be long and harrowing days, was confident, even optimistic. These inquests, they hoped, would bring the answers they have been denied for 42 years.

Despite a tribunal of inquiry chaired by Justice Ronan Keane in 1981, its report published in 1982, and two Oireachtas-appointed reviews, by then senior counsel Paul Coffey in 2008 and by retired judge Pat McCartan in 2017, for the families the truth behind their loved ones’ deaths remained hidden.

A similar mood remained on Wednesday. After his pen-portrait of his brother Jimmy Buckley (23) had been read into the record, Errol Buckley said he was “glad it’s done, it’s a relief”.

“I feel we’re getting there now, we’re getting towards justice,” he said.

Maria Carey, who read her pen-portrait of her sister, Caroline Carey (17), said: “It was a very difficult thing to do but it had to be done. We had to put a personal touch to Caroline.”

They spoke of their confidence in the coronial process and in Dublin coroner Dr Myra Cullinane. “I think at this point we have people on our side. We have a very good legal team, we have a coroner who … has great empathy towards the families. We just hope we get the result,” said Ms Carey.

Commentators have noted that the number of solicitors and counsel on the team representing the majority of families are from Northern Ireland, which has had more than its share of deaths in contested circumstances. Lead solicitor Belfast-based Darragh Mackin has been instrumental in getting these inquests. It was he who wrote to the then attorney general, Séamus Woulfe, in 2018 notifying him of the families’ intention to apply for a fresh inquest under section 24 of the Coroners Act, 1962.

By then he was immersed in preparing for the Ballymurphy inquests, which opened in November 2018, into the deaths of 10 people who were shot during a British army operation in west Belfast in August 1971.

Two years previously the inquests took place into the Hillsborough disaster, in which 97 people were crushed to death at a football match at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield South Yorkshire, in April 1989.

In Ballymurphy and Hillsborough the circumstances of the deaths were highly contested. Families battled for years for the truth. They believed their loved ones had been unlawfully killed, that the truth had been kept from them and that they had been ignored for years.

Pen portraits

Those inquests, says Mr Mackin, are the “template” on which the Stardust inquests are now based. Pen portraits – bringing the deceased to the centre of proceedings – were first used in Hillsborough and were used in the Ballymurphy inquests.

“At the centre of this is Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” Mr Mackin told The Irish Times.

Article 2 states: “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.” In an Article 2 inquest, which is what the Hillsborough, Ballymurphy and Stardust inquests are, the coroner must inquire not only into who died, where, when and how they died, but into all the circumstances, in particular where the State may have failed in its obligation to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction.

An investigation led by a coroner, where documents and witnesses can be summoned, where evidence can be tested and families are full participants, is the “total opposite” of the paper-based reviews so far provided to the families, said Mr Mackin.

“The Coffey and McCartan reviews weren’t designed to find facts. An inquest is exactly the opposite of all of that, which is that it hears all of the facts and comes to its own conclusion.”

Such Article 2 inquests continue to be established as investigations into legacy deaths in Northern Ireland, he said.

With more than 300 witnesses to give evidence over the coming months, many of whom have not testified before and with experts among them, new facts about that night are expected to emerge.

The Ballymurphy inquest found, in May 2021, that those killed in 1971 were “entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question”.

The second Hillsborough inquests found, in April 2016, the 97 football supporters had been unlawfully killed due to gross failures by South Yorkshire police and ambulance services to fulfil their duty of care. They found the design of the stadium contributed to the crush, and that supporters were in no way to blame for the dangerous conditions.

Full Article available here.


Darragh Mackin


Claire McKeegan

Legal Executive

Diarmuid Brecknell

Trainee Solicitor

Harry Robinson


Sophie McClintock

Legal Executive

Colm Dore

Legal Executive

Catherine Logan


Darragh Mackin

Darragh Mackin has been described as ‘a rising star on the international legal scene’ (Irish Times) and a ‘Champion of the Cause’ (The Parchment).  In July 2016, Darragh was the first ever Ireland based Lawyer to be nominated, and in turn to win, an award at the prestigious London Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.  

He has developed a specialist practice in Human Rights, Public Law, Actions against Public Authorities and International law.  He continues to appear in some of the most complex Inquests and Inquiries in Ireland, acting for 47 of the families in the Stardust Inquest, appearing in the Ballymurphy Inquest, the family of Morgan Barnard who was killed in the Greenville tragedy, and for the victims in the the child abuse Bill Kenneally public inquiry.

He regularly advises individuals and companies both domestically and internationally, with a particular specialism in data protection and privacy.  Darragh recently advises on reputation management and the challenges emanating from the misuse of social media, GDPR, and an individual’s ‘right to be forgotten’ online. 

He has acted in cases at all levels including in the Supreme Courts in London and Dublin, The European Court of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Special Procedures.  He has acted for both individuals, companies and some of the most well known non-governmental organisations including Amnesty International, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, and Extinction Rebellion. He has been instructed and advised on cases all around the World, including the USA, Spain, France, Sri Lanka, Malawi and the Cayman Islands. He also appears on behalf of a number of Basque prisoners currently pending consideration by the European Court of Human Rights.  

Darragh was instructed for the NI Taxi Drivers group which resulted in the payment of £16.7million to NI Taxi Drivers, one of the largest in NI history. He is also currently instructed in a multi million pound claim in the Dublin Commercial Court arising out of the approach by insurance companies to indemnifying hotels during the Covid 19 pandemic.

In addition to practice, Darragh is an associate lecturer of Public Law at the University of Ulster and has delivered a number of guest lectures at Cambridge University, Trinity University, Queens University Belfast, and DCU.   



Sarah Ewart & Amnesty International (The Abortion Litigation)

Darragh has appeared in many of the seminal human rights cases in recent times in Ireland. He acted for Sarah Ewart and Amnesty International to which saw the law changed in respect of abortion in Northern Ireland. Darragh was also labelled The Times ‘Lawyer of the Week for his work on this case.

The Hooded Men (Ireland v UK)

Darragh was instructed by a number of the Hooded Men in the application for revision of the Ireland v United Kingdom 1978 decision by the European Court of Human Rights on torture.  In addition, Darragh acted in the landmark judicial review challenge Re Francis McGuigan to which the Supreme Court determined that the decision not to investigate was unlawful. Following this decision, the Chief Constable formally apologised to the Hooded Men.

The relevant media footage can be accessed here:  CNNRTEBBC, and the Journal

Aidan McAnespie

Darragh is instructed by the family of Aidan McAnespie who was murdered as a result of a shot fired from a British army sanger in 1988.  On June 2018, on foot of an application lodged on behalf of the family, a decision was taken to prosecute David Holden for the killing.  In February 2023, this resulted in the first prosecution of a British Soldier post the Good Friday Agreement.  

The relevant media footage can be accessed here and here.

The Judgment can be accessed here:

The Glenanne Series (Re Edward Barnard & Others)

The Glenanne Gang were responsible for more than 120 murders between the years 1972 – 1978 in the area commonly referred to as ‘the murder triangle’.  Darragh initiated Judicial Review Proceedings against the Chief Constable of the PSNI for the failure to conduct an overarching investigation into the allegations of state collusion arising out of the Glenanne Gang murders.  In the seminal case of Re Edward Barnard, the Court of Appeal ruled that it was unlawful not to investigate the evidence of state collusion.  As a result, the independent police team Operation Kenova headed by Jon Boutcher has now been appointed to investigate the state collusion in the 120 murders.   

The relevant media footage can be accessed here.

Loughgall (Re Brigid Hughes)

Instructed by the Loughgall Truth & Justice Campaign and the families bereaved as a result of the shootings at Loughgall on 8th May 1987.  Darragh was instructed before the High Court and Court of Appeal in respect of a decision taken by the Secretary of State that the decision to grant an Inquest into Loughgall was ‘National Security Sensitive’.  In September 2015, the Advocate General announced that a fresh inquest was to be held into the fatal shootings at Loughgall.  As a result of a political stalemate, the necessary funding for the legacy inquest system was withheld.  In an unprecedented decision the Court ruled that the then former first Minister Arlene Foster MLA had acted unlawfully in failing to release the funding and quashed the decision.  After initiating contempt of Court proceedings, the necessary funding was released to the Coronial Service for Legacy Inquests.  

The relevant media footage can be accessed here:

Fergal McFerran – The Brexit Case (‘The Peoples Challenge’ – Gina Miller No.1)

In 2016, Gina Miller initiated legal action challenging whether the Royal Prerogative can override or undo Acts of Parliament.  The challenge arose out of the controversial use of the prerogative to execute Brexit, and to leave the EU.  A group of individuals including two British citizens living in France, a Gibraltarian national, a Welsh citizen and Fergal McFerran, president of NUS-USI formed the ‘peoples challenge’.  Darragh was instructed by Fergal McFerran.  The Supreme Court held by a majority, that the UK Government could not initiate withdrawal from the European Union without an act of parliament.  This lase has been dubbed by legal commentators as one of the most significant constitutional cases of the decade.      

The relevant media footage can be viewed here and here

The Covid 19 Schools Challenge (Re JR105)

Darragh was instructed by the parent of a child who was forced to attend school during the initial phases of the Coronavirus (or Covid 19) pandemic.  It was argued that the child suffered underlying health conditions and therefore any attendance at school would have put her life at risk.  The respondents confirmed that the child no longer had to attend school, and a decision was subsequently issued by the Minister of Education to close all schools in light of covid-19. 

The case was widely reported in the media.  The footage can be viewed herehere and here.

Legacy Pensions (Re Brian Turley [2020])

Darragh acted for the applicant in the landmark challenge to the Executive Office and Secretary of State over their failure to implement and fund the Legacy Victims Pension.  The Court of Appeal ruled that the Executive Office was under a legal duty to fund the Legacy pensions scheme.  

The relevant media footage can be accessed here and here.


The Stardust Inquest

Darragh acts for the families bereaved as a result of the tragic fire at the Stardust Nightclub on Valentine’s Day 1981.  In 2019, he made an application to the Attorney General in Dublin for a fresh Inquest into the deaths.  He cited the fact that the investigations to date were inadequate and did not comply with human rights standards.  In a landmark decision, the Attorney General ordered a fresh inquest to which is scheduled to begin in 2021.  Darragh’s involvement in the campaign was described by some commentators as the ‘sea-change’ in the families’ forty year campaign for truth and justice.  

The relevant media footage can be accessed here and here:

The Glenanne Gang

Darragh also acts in the ongoing Inquest into the murder of Elizabeth McDonald at the Step Inn, Keady in 1976, in which the Court has been asked to examine the wider systemic allegations of state collusion.  In tandem with the above, Darragh acts in an ongoing group action civil litigation for those families bereaved and injured as a result of the Glenanne Series.      

The relevant media footage can be accessed here

The Hickson Inquiry

Darragh acts for the victims of Ireland’s most notorious paedophile, Bill Kenneally.  In 2018, he secured the opening of a public inquiry into the cover up and failings by the state relating to the activities of Mr Kenneally.  Darragh is now instructed by the victims in the ongoing Inquiry currently being held in Dublin. 

The relevant media footage can be accessed here and here:

The Greenvale Tragedy

Darragh is instructed on behalf of the family of Morgan Barnard in the ongoing proceedings relating to the tragedy at the Greenvale Nightclub on St Patrick’s Day.  He acts for the family in respect of the ongoing criminal proceedings into the police officers who attended at the scene. 

The relevant media footage can be accessed here


Ibrahim Halawa

Darragh acted for the Irish Teenager, Ibrahim Halawa, who was detained whilst on holiday in Cairo, Egypt.  Ibrahim was held in detention in excess of 3 years awaiting trial and faced the death penalty had he been convicted.  Darragh acted for Ibrahim in seeking his return to Ireland, making submissions before the EU Parliament, the African Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations.  In October 2017 Ibrahim Halawa was acquitted of all charges before the Egyptian Courts and repatriated to Ireland. 

Media coverage of the UN Intervention is available here.

The relevant media footage can be accessed here and  here

Lisa Smith

Lisa Smith was a former Irish army soldier who travelled to Syria, and was eventually detained by the Turkish authorities as a suspected ISIS fighter.  Darragh acted for Lisa in successfully securing her and her daughter’s repatriation to Ireland.  The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights & Counter Terrorism intervened in Lisa’s case.  Lisa was the first alleged ISIS bride ever to be returned to Ireland. 

The relevant media footage can be accessed here and here

Lisa Smith was Darragh was instructed by Lisa and her family in seeking her repatriation to Ireland.  On foot of published concerns by the United Nations, In December 2019 Lisa and her two-year-old daughter were repatriated to Ireland.  

Carles Puigdemont

 In 2018 Darragh was one of the lawyers who travelled to Brussels to meet the then president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont and provided advice and assistance in respect of his ongoing bid against the extradition proceedings issued by the state of Spain. 

The Tamil Litigation v PSNI

Darragh acted in a ground-breaking case in which a Tamil widow against the PSNI as the successor to the RUC for damages as a result of the murder of 10 of her relatives who were massacred by Sri Lankan’s Police in 1986.  The basis of the case arose out of documents uncovered which demonstrated that the RUC had played a role in the training of ‘the Special Task Force’ in Sri Lanka. 

The relevant media footage can be viewed here and here.  The Tamil Guardian also covered the story here.

In addition, Darragh acts for Mr Jeyasundaram, a teacher, who was convicted in Sri Lanka for involvement with the Tamil Tigers.  He challenges the safety of the conviction on the premise that the confession was obtained by torture, and that the trial process lacked the relevant safeguards required under international law.  The relevant media footage can be accessed here.  

Keyu & Others v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs & Another UKSC 2014/0203

This case is more commonly known as the Batang Kali Massacre case.  Darragh acted for the interveners the Pat Finucane Centre & Rights Watch UK, two Non-Governmental Organisations whom are directly involved in ensuring human rights compliance in respect of the legacy of the past. Both interveners sought to make representations to the Court in respect of the applicability of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to life) and its application in the context of ‘the troubles’.  The Attorney General for Northern Ireland also intervened in this case. 

Media coverage of this case is available here


Phil Miller v PSNI (2020)

Darragh acts for the renowned investigative journalist Phil Miller in an appeal against the Information Commissioner to uphold the refusal by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“PSNI”) to publish a report authored by Jack Morton from 1973, relating to MI5 and the structure of the RUC.

Re Fine Point Films(2019)

Darragh acted for the International media organisations, Index on Censorship and the English PEN in their role in the successful judicial review challenge to a search warrant imposed on two investigative journalists in Northern Ireland.

OH v Google LLP (2019)

Darragh acted for the Plaintiff in one of the first ‘right to be forgotten’ on foot of the Google Spain ruling.  Google conceded and took steps to remove all images and webpages that appeared in respect of our client relating to a previous criminal trial they were involved. 

Facebook Moderators

Darragh was recently instructed to act for a number of individuals in their quest for greater protections for those who are tasked with removing harmful content from Facebook and other social media platforms. He is now instructed in an International Claim seeking compensation for those victims.



Claire McKeegan

Legal Executive

Diarmuid Brecknell

Diarmuid is a legal executive in the Public Law, Inquests and Inquiries Department.  Having completed his LLB Degree at Ulster University, Diarmuid has specialised in both inquests and actions against public authorities.  He is instructed in some of the most high-profile inquests in the jurisdiction.  Diarmuid continues to act in several high value civil actions for damages as a result of acts by public and private authorities.   

Diarmuid has assisted in some of the most contentious and complex challenges to public authorities coming before the Courts in recent times.  Such experience includes the recent Supreme Court case of Re McGuigan & McKenna (‘The Hooded Men’), and the Court of Appeal decision in Re Barnard (‘The Glenanne Series’) which resulted in the Court ordering a fresh investigation into the murder of over 120 deaths.   

Diarmuid’s extensive inquest and inquiry experience includes appearing in the high-profile Stardust Fire Inquest in Dublin, the Ballymurphy Inquest, and the Hickson Public Inquiry into historic child abuse.   

Diarmuid continues to act in several high value civil actions for damages as a result of acts by public and private authorities.   

Trainee Solicitor

Harry Robinson

Harry is a paralegal at Phoenix Law who supports the public law, inquests and inquiries department with a specific focus on environmental actions and mental health challenges. 

Harry has been involved in a number of judicial review challenges to decisions made by public authorities regarding the environment, and in particular, challenges involving the human rights act in the context of protecting the environment. 

Harry has appeared in some of the most high-profile environmental law challenges in this jurisdiction, including the Mullaghglass Landfill challenge, the challenge to the Dalradian Goldmine planning permission, and a potential challenge against the Government for their failure to reduce harmful emissions within Belfast City Centre. 

He has been involved in an extensive number of challenges of decisions which permit environmentally harmful development or activity, including activity which directly harms the health of local populations.  These cases involve complex legal matters including principles derived from European Union law and often technical scientific evidence. 

Harry also appears in a number of high-profile Inquests and related judicial review challenges.  He has a particular focus on state responsibility inquests, which include deaths in custody and mental health institutions.   He is part of the Team that represents the Stardust Families who were bereaved as a result of the Stardust Fire in Dublin on Valentine’s Day in 1981. 

With a background in volunteering in the charity sector on issues regarding mental health, Harry regularly appears in representing victims before the Mental Health Tribunal. 

Notable Cases

Re McCarthy & McAleenon – Challenge to emissions produced from Mullaghglass Landfill (Belfast High Court) 

The Stardust Inquest – Dublin Coroner’s Court 

Re McGuigan – Challenge to the refusal to perform an exhumation (Belfast High Court) 

Re Tracey – Challenge to Dalradian Goldmine (Belfast High Court) 

Re Kevin Loughran – Environmental Challenge (Court of Appeal, Belfast) 


Sophie McClintock

Sophie McClintock graduated with an LLB (Hons) in Law with Politics from Queen’s University Belfast in 2016. Sophie trained as a Solicitor in Phoenix Law and attended the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen’s. Sophie was awarded a Commendation whilst at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies and she qualified as a solicitor in 2020

Sophie works in the Criminal Defence Department in the firm. In the Criminal Defence Department Sophie works with experienced solicitor Peter Corrigan to provide expert advice to clients in custody when arrested or prosecuted for criminal offences.

She has extensive experience in Magistrates Court cases, Terrorism Act and PACE arrests, Youth Court proceedings, Crown Court cases (both judge only and jury trials), Fraud prosecutions, Extradition cases involving European Arrest Warrants both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Appeals to the Northern Ireland Court of Criminal Appeal and applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Sophie also has worked on a number of cases in the Republic of Ireland to include the Special Criminal Court and Court of Appeal.

She has experience as a criminal defence lawyer at all court levels having worked on a number of high-profile criminal cases in Northern Ireland including the cases of;

R v Gary Marshall

R v Damien McLaughlin

Sophie was chosen as one of the 100 women globally to be featured in Face the Futures campaign of the next 100 years of Women in Law.

Legal Executive

Colm Dore

Legal Executive

Catherine Logan

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