‘We failed you when you needed us most’: Taoiseach issues State apology to Stardust families

Forty-three years after fire that killed 48 people, Harris says victims, survivors, relatives suffered ‘a cold shoulder, a deaf ear and two generations of struggle for justice’

Taoiseach Simon Harris has formally and unreservedly apologised on behalf of the State to the families of the Stardust fire victims, 43 years after the blaze in which 48 people aged from 16 to 27 died and 214 were injured.

He told members of the victims’ families who packed the visitors’ galleries in the Dáil: “Today we say formally and without any equivocation: we are sorry. We failed you when you needed us the most. From the very beginning we should have stood with you but instead we forced you to stand against us.”

Mr Harris, who read out the names of each of the 48 victims and made some brief remarks about them, spoke directly to the families throughout his address. “It is to our great and eternal shame that far from the warm embrace of a caring State, the Stardust families experienced a cold shoulder and a deaf ear, and two generations of struggle for truth and justice. Instead, it is to our great shame that State processes heaped misery upon tragedy for the Stardust families.”

The Taoiseach said: “I hope this is a moment when the State, which rubbed salt in your terrible wounds, starts to help you heal.”


Earlier when Leas Cheann Chomhairle Catherine Connolly welcomed the families and said “Céad míle fáilte romhaibh”, TDs gave a sustained standing ovation.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that on the night of the fire families who gathered at the Garda station were told to get the bus to the hospital or morgue. “This callousness set the tone for the 43 years of disrespect and contempt” for the families, she said.

Ms McDonald said that at the time “the big lie was already in motion, spreading as fast as the fire itself. The big lie was that the Stardust fire was caused by arson.” It was a lie that smeared and criminalised and to this day the families “still ask who crafted that lie, who spun it, who spread it and why. What was their motive and who were they protecting?”

Fianna Fáil Dublin Bay North TD Seán Haughey, whose father Charlie was taoiseach at the time, said: “I genuinely believe I consistently followed up any issues” the families’ campaign committee asked him to. “I also admit that my relations with the committee were at times fraught. I do regret that.”

Former Fine Gael minister and Dublin Bay North TD Richard Bruton said of the families that “we who have represented them in the constituency have failed them. I acknowledge that fully.”

Labour Dublin Bay North TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin said the word Stardust reminded people “of unspeakable horrors – young people lured into a deathtrap, their lives and futures stolen from them, their families bereft with grief, all for the hands that fumbled in a greasy till”.

He said it took 43 years to get justice because it was a predominantly working class community. “It is an insult to the very concept of a republic that anyone should live a second-class life or die a second-class death, but it is an undeniable truth.”

Ms Connolly later criticised the conclusions of a number of judicial reports and said: “In every single report there is a self-serving narrative.” The evidence of families was “contaminated” but not that of the State or the wealthy. It was “the powerful protecting the powerful”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times