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Sunday 24 March 2019

'If Stardust was on the southside we'd have answers by now'

Antoinette Keegan, whose sisters Mary and Martina were among the 48 victims of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin on Valentine's Day in 1981, holds a picture of them outside Leinster House in Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Antoinette Keegan, whose sisters Mary and Martina were among the 48 victims of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin on Valentine's Day in 1981, holds a picture of them outside Leinster House in Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
A candlelit vigil at the site of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin, before the unveiling of a plaque in memory of the 48 people who died on Valentine's day in 1981. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Phyllis McHugh, at a candlelit vigil at the site of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin, before the unveiling of a plaque in memory of the 48 people who died on Valentine's day in 1981. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Aoife Moore

Former RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird - who was the first reporter on the scene of the Stardust tragedy - has said if the fire had been on the southside they would have answers by now.

Some 48 young people died as the popular nightclub in Artane, Dublin, was destroyed in a blaze on Valentine’s Day in 1981 in what is considered the worst fire disaster in the history of the state.

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the fire but lost her two sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16) was tearful on Thursday, as she recounted her experience fighting for her life after the fire, and for justice in the years since.

Ms Keegan said that the families of victims want the inquest into their deaths reopened, when speaking at a plaque unveiling event at the scent of the tragedy.

She said a request for the fresh inquest would be going to the Attorney General soon and stated that the families will get justice.

“A very special thanks has to go to both Bloody Sunday families and Hillsborough who are both supporting the campaign for justice for the 48.

Charlie Bird with Antoinette Keegan (who lost her sisters Mary and Martina) after unveiling the Memorial for the 48 victims of the Stardust fire, on the anniversary of the tragedy. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Charlie Bird with Antoinette Keegan (who lost her sisters Mary and Martina) after unveiling the Memorial for the 48 victims of the Stardust fire, on the anniversary of the tragedy. Picture: Caroline Quinn

“One day we will have our day just like Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday,” she added.

The families recently petitioned the Attorney General for a new inquest, citing fresh, previously unrecorded evidence.

Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan said that he is willing to meet with the families.

However, Mr Flanagan stated that there are no plans for any further enquiry

Before unveiling the plaque, Mr Bird said that families deserves answers.

“I still say it, if this fire had been in the south side of Dublin, the answer would have been there by now,” he said.

“And I’ll say another thing, you wouldn’t have had to put up the memorial yourselves, it would have been done by the State, it would have been done by the people or it would have been done by some business person.

“You are a remarkable group of people, do not give up your fight and do not give up your struggle.

Tributes to the 48 victims of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin on Valentine's day in 1981, outside Leinster House in Dublin as relatives call for a new investigation. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Tributes to the 48 victims of the Stardust nightclub fire in Dublin on Valentine's day in 1981, outside Leinster House in Dublin as relatives call for a new investigation. Niall Carson/PA Wire

“Just imagine if it happened today, the world, the country would have been convulsed by it.

“It was convulsed then, but it was swept under the carpet,” he added.

Tears

There were tears outside Leinster House earlier in the day as families and survivors of the Stardust fire gathered to remember the 48 young people who died in the disaster.

“We picked here because the 48 victims of this fire have become insignificant to this government and previous government,” Ms Keegan said.

“We want the inquest reopened and we want the verdict recorded and we shouldn’t have to do this.

“For us this is a day of sadness, the Government have not responded, and just ignored us.

“I’d like to ask Leo Varadkar if he would like his mother to go through 38 years of injustice like my mother does, and the other families, there’s a young girl here today who lost her mother – she should be together with her mother on Valentine’s Day.

“In any other country, those who are responsible are held to account, but not in Ireland.

“With an inquest we can get truth, we can get closure, without closure you feel trapped.

“We’re consumed, morning, noon and night it’s Stardust.

“We’re not called by our names any more, it’s ‘Stardust families’, it’s all still very raw.”

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 hours later.

Despite findings of safety breaches, there were no prosecutions over the incident.

An initial finding of probable arson meant that the relatives of the dead and injured were unable to sue the club owners and operators for alleged negligence.

In 1983, the owners of the Stardust were awarded damages of more than €730,000 after suing Dublin Corporation.

The initial verdict of arson, which victims have always denied, has since been thrown out.

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan, who has been campaigning on behalf of the families, says the fight has gone on too long.

“Lots of people are out and about today, young and in love, and to think back to all those young people 38 years ago who never came home,” she said.

“People should email the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and ask him to meet with the families.

“We need to keep the pressure on the Government, the Attorney General that these families deserve justice, it’s gone on too long now for anybody to wait.”

On Thursday evening, families, survivors and around 100 supporters gathered for a candlelit vigil at the site of the fire in Artane.

A plaque adorned with the names of the 48 people who died was unveiled by broadcaster Charlie Bird, who produced one of the most prominent documentaries about the tragedy.

A rose was laid for each victim, while the once-banned Christy Moore single They Never Came Home was played.

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