‘Michael was mine and he was real’: Mother of Stardust victim thanks public for support
Gertrude Barrett says on hearing about new inquest she couldn’t ‘put feelings into words’
Gertrude Barrett who lost her son Michael (17) pictured in 2007 protesting outside the Dáil. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien
The mother of one of the Stardust victims has expressed her thanks to the people of Ireland “for never giving up” in their support of families and their ongoing appeal for a new inquest.
Forty-eight people died in the blaze at the Stardust nightclub in north Dublin on St Valentine’s Day in the early hours of Saturday, February 14th, 1981.
Gertrude Barrett’s 17-year-old son Michael was one of the victims of the fire.
“I want to thank the people of Ireland who have stayed with us and who have prayed with us and have never given up,” Ms Barrett told RTÉ Morning Ireland on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the Attorney General Séamus Woulfe confirmed that new inquests will be held following a request last April from the families of the victims who have continued to campaign for answers as to the cause of the St Valentine’s Day tragedy.
Mr Woulfe said he is satisfied that the holding of fresh inquests is, on balance, in the public interest and in the interests of justice.
Ms Barrett said she wanted the public and the State to know that nobody was going to tell her what was going to be done about her son.
Even after 38 years no words could express her pain, she said. Her son’s remains had been returned to her in a body bag bearing the number 38. “They all lost their identity. Michael was mine and he was real. He didn’t come into the world as a number. When I was given my body bag after four days in the morgue I was told to get back to my life.”
Ms Barrett said she had heard about the new inquest on a radio news bulletin. “I froze in time, it was like it zapped me back all those years. I didn’t even cry, I couldn’t put my feelings into words.”
’Fought tooth and nail’
Meanwhile, Antoinette Keegan, who lost her two sisters Mary and Martina in the disaster, also welcomed the inquests.
She said that she had broken down and cried when she got the news. “Every time before I had my hopes dashed,” she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show. “I was in complete shock. I broke down roaring and crying,” added Ms Keegan.
“My father fought tooth and nail until his death bed. My mother never stopped. It is a credit that she never have up.”
The family wanted justice as no one had ever been held accountable for the 48 deaths, she said. “My mother said that at last we’re being heard.”
Darragh Mackin, the legal representative for the Stardust families, told the same programme that over the past 38 years, the families had collated evidence that had not yet been investigated.
Previous investigations had not called witnesses or examined all the evidence, he said. “This will be the first time that all the evidence will be investigated.”
The families had been left in limbo wondering how the fire started, he added. Modern technology and investigative techniques will now establish the truth.
Key witnesses are still alive and can provide vital evidence when they are called before the fresh inquest which will be the largest in the State’s history, said Mr Mackin. He predicted that there will be up to 50 witnesses.
Legacy inquests in Northern Ireland had been effective, he said, noting that despite the passage of time, accountability could still be determined.
“We have been living in hope for 38 years. We have been living Stardust from the night of the tragedy to today. We eat, sleep, breathe Stardust.
“I have given a statement for the first time. I was never called before to give evidence. This is my first time, recalling every single second of that night. I was crying while I relived that night.”
Mr Mackin said he anticipated that the inquest will be held in a timely manner.