Stardust families welcome belated State apology - and say accountability should be next

‘The institutions of this State failed you,’ says Taoiseach Simon Harris

After more than four decades battling to be heard by the State, the families of the 48 people unlawfully killed in the 1981 Stardust disaster have welcomed the State’s acknowledgment it “failed” them.

In a formal State apology, delivered in the Dáil on Tuesday, Taoiseach Simon Harris told scores of members of families of victims and survivors of the inferno, gathered in the public gallery, they should never have had to walk alone.

“We should have been by your side. We should have worked with you. We were not. We did not. And for that, we are truly sorry,” the Taoiseach said.

The State apology came less than a week after a jury in Dublin coroner’s court delivered a verdict of unlawful killing in respect of each of the 48 people, aged between 16 and 27, who died as a result of a fire in the north Dublin nightclub in the early hours of February 14th, 1981.


Antoinette Keegan, a survivor of the blaze who lost her sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16), said the families were “overwhelmed” with the verdicts and the State apology less than a week later.

It was now time, she said, for more. “Someone should be held accountable”, she said, adding it was “up to the authorities and the State as well” to make good on the apology and investigate whether criminal charges should be brought. “We should never have had to do what we did for 43 years. The State should have done what we did.”

Referring to the removal of arson as the cause for the fire from the public record in 2009, she said: “When arson was removed it was the responsibility of the State then to initiate an investigation into the deaths.”

Over 100 family members and survivors began arriving at Leinster House from before 1pm on Tuesday. They were offered lunch in the LH2000 wing before being shown to the public gallery.

At 2pm, as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly, called on the Taoiseach to speak. Addressing the families he said: “I know there have been many, many times when you thought this day would never come over far too many years.”

Acknowledging that many parents of the 48 had “left this life before ever seeing justice”, he said: “I am deeply sorry that you were made to fight for so long that they went to their graves never knowing the truth.”

The State should have provided counselling and answers, he said.

Referencing the late Christine Keegan who campaigned for justice until her death in July 2020, he quoted words she had planned to read at the inquests. She had written: “The Stardust fire took all our happy family days away from us ... I would like to ask this question to the Government, the establishment: ‘What did we families of the deceased Stardust victims ever do on the Government to deserve this ill treatment?’.

“Today I want to answer that question,” said Mr Harris. “You did nothing wrong. The institutions of this State failed you. The institutions of this State let you down.”

Jimmy O’Meara, whose brother Brendan O’Meara (23) died in the fire, was “very apprehensive” before the apology. “I think it went very well but there are still questions to be answered. Why did it take so long? Who was at fault for keeping it dragging it on so long. Why did it take so long? I just can’t understand that,” he said.

Alan Morton, last remaining family member and brother of David Morton (19), had travelled from England for the verdicts last week. “I was really, really happy with what I heard. It’s just a shame it’s taken 43 years for them to listen and respond. We could have done with this a long time ago.” It was “a shame”, he said, his parents Maura and Billy had not lived to see it.

John Muldoon, brother of Kathleen Muldoon (19) who had been a trainee nurse when she was killed, expressed his regret their parents, Julia and Hugh, who both died in the last 13 months, had not lived to “see the day that her name was cleared”.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times