The Irish Times view on the Stardust apology: a belated acknowledgment of State wrongdoing

Addressing the families in the Visitors’ Gallery, the Taoiseach apologised for the successive rebuffs and humiliations visited on them

Today Simon Harris became the latest taoiseach to offer a heartfelt apology for the mistreatment by the State of its own citizens when he addressed the scandalous four-decade aftermath of the 1981 Stardust tragedy. Enda Kenny in 2013 and Micheál Martin in 2021 had given similar apologies to the Magdalene women and to those who had spent time in mother and baby homes.

There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of any of their words. But it is worth reflecting on a recurring pattern of contempt among Irish society’s highest institutions towards those with no power and asking whether sufficient safeguards have been put in place to be sure such appalling abuses can never happen again.

However, this was a day to focus on the 48 victims and their families, whose 43-year struggle for full acknowledgment of the wrongs done to them has finally been vindicated.

It is to Harris’s’s credit that he moved swiftly following last Thursday’s inquest verdict of unlawful killing to meet with the families at the weekend and to indicate that a formal apology was forthcoming. On Monday he also visited the memorial at the site of the fire in Artane


Addressing the families in the Visitors’ Gallery, the Taoiseach apologised for the successive rebuffs and humiliations visited on them. For many, the most moving testimony of the inquest had been the portraits in words of the young victims by their families and loved ones. The Taoiseach drew on these to pay tribute to each of the dead in turn.

It was, he said, “to our great and eternal shame” that the families experienced “a cold shoulder, a deaf ear and two generations of struggle for truth and justice”. He recalled the occasion when protesting Stardust mothers for several days occupied a cold security hut at the entrance to Leinster House. The apology represented, he suggested, a final coming in from the cold.

It was a strong speech, the most important of the new Taoiseach’s short tenure. Harris came to the job with a reputation as a strong and emotionally intelligent communicator. That was on show in the Dáil today.

Some serious issues remain. In accepting the verdict and the recommendations of the inquest, the Government has flagged its intention to reopen the question of financial redress, which has not been legally available to the families due to final settlements agreed for derisory sums in the 1980s. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and other relevant colleagues will report on the implementation of other recommendations. What legal implications, if any, arise from the verdict of unlawful killing remain unclear. The Government has committed to working with the families to devise an appropriate way for the State to commemorate the victims. They deserve no less.