Stardust tragedy: Taoiseach apologises to families and confirms Dáil apology for Tuesday

Simon Harris said the meeting with families and survivors at Government Buildings on Saturday was ‘humbling and emotional’

Taoiseach Simon Harris has “apologised unreservedly” to the families of the Stardust fire tragedy at a meeting with them at Government Buildings in Dublin on Saturday.

Mr Harris will also issue a State apology to them in the Dáil on Tuesday, which families have been invited to attend. It is understood the 48 names of the victims will also be read out in the Dáil chamber.

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Harris described the meeting with 70 people who had a connection to the tragedy as “humbling and emotional”.

The relatives of the 48 young people who died in the blaze that ripped through the nightclub in Artane, north Dublin in 1981 have long called for an official State apology.


On Thursday, an inquest jury returned a verdict that all of the victims were unlawfully killed. It comes after a previous finding in 1982 that the fire had been started deliberately.

The large group of family members arrived at Government Buildings shortly after 11am on Saturday morning, where they were welcomed by Mr Harris at the entrance steps. The group met Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald at a hotel in the city centre before this.

Later, Mr Harris said he wanted to “thank every person who attended for what they told me, both as a group and in private individual conversations”.

“More than 70 people came to the Department of the Taoiseach today,” he said.

“However, I am acutely aware that the numbers affected by Stardust is many, many multiples of that. That includes those injured, the people working in Stardust, the frontline workers who fought to save lives on the night. It includes survivors, the fire crews, the ambulance staff, the gardaí, the army, the taxi drivers and the communities across Ireland who have carried this tragedy with them for 43 years.

“I have listened closely to everything the families told me and as Taoiseach, I have today apologised unreservedly to each family. I will do so on behalf of the State on Tuesday next.”

Stardust survivor Antoinette Keegan, whose two sisters Mary and Martina died in the blaze, said the meeting with Mr Harris had gone well and felt positive that families had “been listened to after 43 years”.

However, Ms Keegan said if the apology next week was “not right”, they would not be “accepting it”. She added that the Taoiseach read out the victim’s names during the meeting and said he was reading their pen portraits to “get an insight as to who they were”.

“They were real people, they weren’t numbers, like they were in 1981 and 1982,” Ms Keegan said. “They were bagged and tagged for 43 years. This inquest has opened a big chapter for us. They’ve gotten their identity back, they’ve got their good name back.”

Brigid McDermott, who lost her three children in the fire, William, Marcella and George, said while she wanted to hear the State were sorry “it’s a bit late for me”.

Her daughter, Bridget McDermott, added: “On Tuesday we’re invited in to Dáil Éireann and we’ll be sitting in the gallery and we’ll be waiting and we just hope everything he [Mr Harris] said in there, that he sticks to their word. We’re also going to get a written apology, each family.”

Maurice and Phyllis McHugh, who lost their 17-year-old daughter Caroline in the fire, said they would like a criminal investigation but it was up to gardaí and the DPP to decide this.

Carole Barrett, who lost her brother Michael, said the meeting had gone well but that the Dáil apology had to be robust, meaningful and transparent.

Darragh Mackin, solicitor for the families, said the meeting with the Taoiseach had been a “positive engagement with robust exchanges”.

Mr Mackin said there had not been conversations about a possible redress scheme and that it was “far too early” to determine about such a scheme.

“The first position is that the apology has to be right,” he said. “We have to have reconciliation if we move to the next stage. The reality is at this stage there needs to be a formal recognition of what the apology says, what it looks like and the contents of the apology must be approved. Then we move to the next stage.”

Mr Mackin added that families had offered to engage with Mr Harris on the contents of the apology and they had made it “clear” what they wanted included.

He said it should reflect the “systemic abuse” families had sustained for over 40 years.

A majority decision from the jury of seven women and five men found the blaze, which broke out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1981, was caused by an electrical fault in the hot press of the bar.

The Taoiseach said on Friday: “I am very keen to meet with the families and very conscious that these families have felt unheard for decades, and I want to make sure that they know that I’m listening, that I want to hear them and, of course, I want to be in a position as Taoiseach to apologise on behalf of this country, but I think the most appropriate thing to do is to meet with them.”

He added: “I am eager to be in a position to apologise to these families but I think it’s right and proper that I meet them first.”

Following the meeting this morning, Mary Lou McDonald issued a statement which said it is “essential that a State apology is now made and that it addresses the failures of governments not just 43 years ago in the aftermath of this tragedy but every day since then”.

“For four decades, they have faced obstacle after obstacle put in front of them by the State,” she said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times