‘The state failed Stardust families’, says Harris

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Video caption, Simon Harris delivered a state apology to Stardust families and survivors.
At a glance
  • Taoiseach Simon Harris delivered a formal state apology to the families and to the victims of the Stardust fire in the Dáil.
  • A verdict of unlawful killing was delivered in the inquests into the 1981 Stardust fire in Dublin on Thursday.
  • Forty-eight people died in the blaze where 800 people were attending a Valentine’s Day disco.
  • The victims were aged between 16 and 27.
  • The jury found the fire started in the hot press in the main bar and was caused by an electrical fault.
23 April 2024, 07:40 BST

Updated 51 minutes ago

The Taoiseach (Irish prime minister), Simon Harris said the Stardust families were failed by the state as he read out a state apology in the Dáil (Irish parliament).

Forty-eight young people died in a blaze at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin On Valentine’s night in 1981.

Simon Harris said the Stardust families were “forced to endure a living nightmare.”

“We say formally and without any mistake we are sorry. We failed you when you needed us the most,” he said.

On Saturday, more than 70 survivors and relatives met Mr Harris at Government Buildings in Dublin.

I have “apologized unreservedly” to the families.

In a statement, Mr Harris said the meeting was a “humbling and emotional” experience and he thanked those who attended.

Victims and families ‘vindicated’

Gertrude Barrett, whose son Michael died in the blaze, said she never gave up the fight for a state apology “for one fleeting moment.”

“I’m on this mission from the night I ran out the door looking for him,” she said.

Michael was working in the nightclub the night of the fire. Ms Barrett said the apology would finally mean her son would be “vindicated”.

“It was left to his mammy though to do it which is an absolutely horrendous slight on the Irish state,” she added.

“We had to go out of the jurisdiction twice to get an inquest opened and then to get five young lads identified.

“I hope they learn a lesson and a hard one at that.”

‘Families endured a living nightmare’

Image caption, The taoiseach made a state apology to the Stardust families and victims on Tuesday

Simon Harris said he was “deeply sorry that you (Stardust families) were made to fight for so long.”

“We say formally and without any mistake we are sorry. We failed you when you needed us the most.

“From the very beginning we should have stood with you but instead we forced you to stand against us,” he added.

Adding that some family members had passed away before “knowing the truth.”

“I know that you were forced to endure a living nightmare which began when your loved ones were so cruelly snatched from you in a devastating fire,” he added.

I apologize unreservedly – Harris

The taoiseach went on to read out the names of each of the 48 victims to the Dáil, describing their personalities, hobbies and dreams.

Mr Harris said Stardust families and survivors were forced to live a nightmare:

“For all of this as Taoiseach, on behalf of this state, I apologize unreservedly to all the families of the Stardust victims and all the survivors for the harm that was done to them and for the profoundly painful years of struggle for the truth.”

The families sat in the public gallery during the speech.

Work is to begin on proposals to commemorate the tragedy.

Image caption, Gertrude Barrett lost her son 17-year-old Michael in the Stardust fire over 40 years ago

Selina and Louise McDermott lost three siblings, William, George and Marcella, in the fire. Both never imagined the families would receive a state apology.

“I think it was only when we spoke to and had all of the support of the Bloody Sunday Trust family that they actually gave us even more courage to keep on going,” Louise said.

Selina said she hoped the apology would right the wrongs the relatives experienced over the last four decades.

“I will be so happy that at last we got it, we got the recognition that we shouldn’t have gone through the 43 years of being treated so badly by our own Irish state.”

Apology ‘light at end of tunnel’

Darragh Mackin, a solicitor representing most of the victims’ families, said Tuesday’s apology marks “the light at the end of the tunnel” for relatives.

“The most important thing is that it is absolutely crucial that the state acknowledges that these families have been failed for four decades,” he told BBC News NI.

“Not only were they failed at the time, but they have been failed ever since that time for 40 years.”

Mr Mackin said the first step to ensuring justice for those affected is “ensuring the apology is done right”.

“The apology then lays the foundations for the families in what happens next,” he added.

Image caption, Survivors and relatives of the victims of the Stardust fire walked through Dublin on Saturday

An original inquest, in 1981, ruled the fire started because of Arson, a theory which was never accepted by the families of victims. That ruling was dismissed in 2009.

Following their 43-year battle for justice – members of the Stardust families said they deserved a formal apology for the way in which the state handled the nightclub disaster.

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Video caption, ‘We never gave up’ – Stardust react families

What did the Stardust inquest jury find?

The inquest, the longest running and largest in the Republic of Ireland’s history, was held at Dublin City Coroner’s Court.

It sat for 122 days and heard testimony from 373 witnesses.

The fire was first seen outside the building between 01:20 and 01:40 local time. Gardaí (Irish police) arrived at 01:50.

The jury found the height of the nightclub ceiling and materials in the bar, including carpet tiles on the wall, were found to have contributed to the blaze.

Image caption, The aftermath of the fire at the Stardust nightclub in Dublin

Lack of visibility, lack of knowledge of the building and thick, toxic smoke were found to have made it more difficult for people to leave.

In addition, the heat of the fire, speed of its spread, failure of the emergency lighting system and lack of preparedness of staff played a part.

Emergency exits were locked, chained or otherwise obstructed and victims were impeded in their ability to exit.

The jury found that 42 people died on the premises.

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