Harris shows he can project empathy in Stardust apology

Focus for the Stardust families now turns to accountability as they welcome belated State apology

This morning’s headline on the front page of The Irish Times quotes the apology of Taoiseach Simon Harris who told the Stardust families: “We failed you when you needed us the most.”

“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.

As Pat Leahy reports in his analysis, Harris, in his first major Dáil set-piece, gave an “assured and empathetic performance, noticeably staying – unlike most TDs – to the end of the nearly four-hour debate”.


As Pat says, “this was not a test of his decision-making – it was a test of his ability to perform as Taoiseach. And he showed he can project empathy, a quality that is essential in modern politics”.

And as Miriam Lord writes, a State apology delivered on the floor of the Dáil by the Taoiseach is a “remarkably powerful event”.

She points out that Harris left his seat after his speech. “As the talking continued, he was upstairs slowly making his way around the curved rows. He shook hands with almost everyone – the others he embraced.

“For the Dáil, this was an unprecedented gesture.”

It was a fairly extraordinary circumstance for a new Taoiseach to find himself in - issuing a State apology just weeks after taking up the job. His apology marks another huge moment for the affected families.

As the Irish Times editorial view points out, ”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.”

And so what’s next? Accountability. Read about it here.

Immigration once again becoming a political hot potato

Immigration remains at the top of the agenda as the number of international protection applicants continues to a rise.

As we reported yesterday, more than 80 per cent of people applying for asylum in Ireland are coming from the UK over the land border with Northern Ireland, according to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. Jack Horgan Jones reports how the Cabinet has agreed that international protection applicants from Nigeria will be subject to an accelerated processing regime. A Government source said a substantial majority of Nigerian applicants were arriving into Ireland from Britain, many via the North.

And as Jack reports in his analysis piece, the Government’s decision to opt into a new EU migration pact, due to take effect in 2026, is the latest test of the Coalition’s capacity to achieve its policy goals against a backdrop that is more volatile – especially on immigration issues.

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In the Dáil, the day starts with Topical Issues at 9.10am, followed by a motion from the regional group for carers. Leaders’ Questions returns at noon. Shortly after 2pm, the Dáil will hear an update on weather related supports for farmers. Around 6.30pm, report and final stages for the Gambling Regulation Bill will be taken. The Dáil adjourns at 10.03pm.

In the Seanad the first thing on the agenda will be commencement matters at 10.30am, followed by the order of business at noon. At 1.15pm, there will be a debate on the Employment (Collective Redundancies and Miscellaneous Provisions) and Companies (Amendment) Bill, which will set up an employment law review group. At 4.30pm, Fine Gael senators will bring a motion on smartphone use. The Seanad adjourns at 6.30pm.

In the committee rooms, at 9.30am, the Joint Committee on Health will hear from Vision Ireland and the Irish Lung Fibrosis Association, to hear about health supports for blind people and those with lung fibrosis. At 1.30pm, the Joint Committee on Transport will hear from the Road Safety Authority. An interesting one will be the Joint Committee on Culture, Arts and Media at 1.30pm. Politicians will consider governance and culture issues at RTÉ, with Unite, Siptu, the NUJ and others. The best of the rest can be found here.

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