Stardust families to stage protest at Attorney General’s office

‘There is still a lot of raw emotion, we still get upset when we talk about the Stardust’

Survivors and families of victims who died in the Stardust fire say they have found new evidence and will petition the Attorney General for a new inquest.

A total of 48 young people died in the nightclub in Artane, north Dublin on Valentine’s Day in 1981 in what is considered the worst fire disaster in the history of the state.

Now campaigners say they have new evidence, uncovered through Freedom of Information requests and previously unheard witness testimony.

Only one emergency phone call is on public record from the night of the fire, but campaigners say they now have a signed statement from a woman who claims she made a second call about a fire on the roof of the nightclub.

The group also says it has evidence that the Electrical Supply Board had written to the owners of the Stardust about faulty electrical wiring before the fire occurred, all of which, it says, is crucial to the timing and cause of the fire.

The group has since secured the expertise of an expert who is also advising on the Grenfell Tower fire investigation.

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the fire, but lost her two sisters Mary (19), and Martina, 16, says she believes the families have been left to suffer due to neglect from the Government.

“We’ve had to bear this cross ourselves,” Ms Keegan said.

“There is still a lot of raw emotion, we still get upset when we talk about the Stardust and we have to talk about it all the time.

“We’ve had no counselling, we’ve had no help, the Government has done nothing but abuse us.”

Officials originally ruled that the cause of the fire was arson, a theory that was never accepted by the families.

It was later ruled out following a fresh inquiry in 2009.

Investigations into the fire showed that a number of escape routes from the dance hall were blocked as emergency doors were locked by chains. Concerns have also been raised about the investigation of the scene, which allowed politicians and media to walk through the building just days after the fire.

“The people in charge at the time wanted the answer to be arson, and 48 children went to their graves arsonists,” Ms Keegan added.

“Someone knows what the truth is, they don’t want to admit they were wrong, they have given us nothing but heartache and pain for 37 years.”

Postcard campaign

The most recent campaign began in June, and saw the families gather signatures on postcards petitioning the Attorney General for a fresh inquest, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland, the tally now stands at over 48,000, 1,000 signatures for each victim of the fire.

The group will stage a protest on Tuesday, November 20th fronted by folk singer Christy Moore, where they will march from Westland Row in Dublin to the Attorney General's Office to hand over the postcards, and urge the public to attend.

Selina McDermott, whose two brothers William (22), and George (19), died along with their 16-year-old sister Marcella said the campaign has been tough, but at times therapeutic.

“This is the biggest response we’ve ever had over the years,” she said.

“People want to know what happened, why it has taken so long, and people, especially young people, are fed up with the Government’s apologies for cover-ups.

“It’s tiring, it’s emotional, we’re now in the fourth generation of our families and we’re still campaigning and still have no answers.

“The truth is, if this had happened on the other side of the (River) Liffey, and not to working class people, we wouldn’t have to do this.”

Darragh Mackin, Phoenix Law Human Rights Lawyers, Belfast and solicitor for the families, said now was the time for: “The appropriate and final conclusion, for the families who continue to suffer by the ill informed and inconclusive narratives that dominate the public record.”

The families say they requested a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over the summer, however their request was denied and they were referred to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

The Department of the Taoiseach was approached for comment and made no reply. - PA