Taoiseach makes State apology in Dáil to families of Stardust victims

Taoiseach makes State apology in Dáil to families of Stardust victims

By Cate McCurry, PA

The Taoiseach has apologised on behalf of the State to the families of the victims who died in the Dublin Stardust fire tragedy.

Forty-eight people were killed when the blaze ripped through the nightclub in 1981.

After a more than 40-year campaign for justice, last week an inquest found that the 48 victims had been unlawfully killed.


On Tuesday, Taoiseach Simon Harris said the State failed the families of the Stardust tragedy when “you needed us the most”.

Politicians and others gathered in the Dáil applauded and got to their feet to welcome the Stardust families who gathered in the distinguished visitors’ gallery and public gallery.

Survivors and the families of the Stardust victims listening in the gallery of the Dáil. Photo: Oireachtas TV

“I know there have been many times when you thought this day would never come,” Mr Harris said.

“I know you were forced to endure a living nightmare which began when your loved ones were snatched from you in a devastating fire.


“Their unfinished stories became your story. The defining story of your lives and the lives of your parents and other family members who left this life before ever seeing justice.

“I am deeply sorry you were made to fight for so long that they went to their graves never knowing the truth.

“Today we say formally and without any equivocation, 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.”

I truly hope that the days since last Thursday have marked a turning point and here today in Dáil Éireann we finally begin to put things right

Mr Harris read out the names of each of the 48 victims to the Dáil, along with a few words about their personalities and hobbies and dreams.

He added: “We think as well of the hundreds of people who were injured and who are scarred forever, physically and mentally scarred by fire and scarred by survival.

“We think of the people working in the Stardust, the waiters, the waitresses, the doorman, the DJs.

“We think of the frontline workers who fought to save lives on the night. The fire crews, the ambulance and hospital staff, and the taxi drivers.

“I want to acknowledge those who came forward many years later and told their stories at the inquest.

“I want to acknowledge the Dublin communities, who were good neighbours to the Stardust families and communities right across Ireland, who supported them for 43 years.”

Mr Harris said he hoped the apology and statements in the Dáil help the Stardust families heal.

“I truly hope that the days since last Thursday have marked a turning point and here today in Dáil Éireann we finally begin to put things right,” he said.

“To bring you in from the cold and end the neglect of 43 years waiting and fighting for the only thing you ever wanted, the truth. Nothing else. No other agenda, just the truth.”

Minister for Transport and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan described an “incredibly important day” for the families of those killed in the Stardust disaster.

However he said he is conscious that any sense of relief brought by today’s official apology to the families in the Dáil is “tempered by the fact that they [the families] had to wait for far, far too long to hear it”.

“The organs of the Irish station didn’t respond when repeatedly confronted by contradictory evidence. It’s a sobering indictment of our integrity as a nation and one that we must reflect upon, uncomfortable though it may be for many of us in the most powerful positions,” he said.

Mr Ryan said last week’s inquest findings confirmed what the families “had known for decades”, that their loved ones had been unlawfully killed.

TDs in the Dáil applauding the families of the victims of the Stardust fire. Photo: Oireachtas TV

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said it is right and fitting for the Irish parliament to apologise, “however late in the day”.

“In responding to the Stardust tragedy our state did not live up to the principles of justice, its core values, nor on the decency that we owe every person,” he added.

“The victims, their families, their friends, and their community were let down.

“This failure is a matter of deep and lasting regret and shame for our state and all of us who represent it. The state’s response was utterly lacking in compassion and understanding.

“Even worse, it compounded the trauma with grievous mistakes, the baseless findings of probable arson that cast scurrilous aspersions of guilt on an entire community.

“The paucity and the complexity of the state compensation, the sheer amount of time it has taken us to get to today’s apology. We owed all of you so much more.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the “big lie” that the fire had been caused by arson began to spread soon after the fire.

“It was a lie repeated over and over,” Ms McDonald said.

“It smeared, it criminalised the victims and survivors suggesting that one of their number was responsible.

“It was a lie that devastated families and further traumatised survivors. To this day those families and survivors still ask who crafted that lie? Who spun it, who spread it and why? What was their motive? And who were they protecting?

“Forty-three years on and they still don’t have the answer to those questions.

“In November 1981, the original tribunal presided over by Justice Ronan Keane concluded that the fire was probably caused by arson. The big lie then became the state’s official position.”

Lisa Lawlor, who was 17 months old when her parents, Francis and Maureen Lawlor, died in the Stardust fire, arrives at Leinster House. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Lisa Lawlor, who was 17 months old when her parents Francis and Maureen Lawlor died in the Stardust fire, said she is “very, very happy” with the Taoiseach’s apology.

Ms Lawlor carried 49 red roses into the Dail to represent the 48 victims as well as the unborn baby of Caroline Carey, who was four-and-a-half months pregnant when she died.

“I am very honoured to be here. We have waited so long for this and have waited so long for something like this, especially me the Stardust baby, the only orphan,” Ms Lawlor said.

“Losing both of them on the one night has been horrific. I can’t describe it to you but I am vindicated and I know they are and I know they are around me.”

She said that Mr Harris struck the right tone.

Ms Lawlor added: “We will discuss with our lawyers the next move but I am very happy with today.”