'They tried to brush it under the carpet' - families of Stardust tragedy call for accountability for the fire
Families of the victims of the Stardust fire believe they waited “too long” for justice as the State had failed to listen to working class people but their roots had kept them “fighting”.
The families gave a press conference at Buswells Hotel in Dublin city this morning as they explained the next steps in their fight for answers to what exactly happened to cause the nightclub fire on Valentines night 1981.
Yesterday Attorney General Séamus Woulfe announced a fresh inquest would be opened to establish what took places in the Artane, Dublin, venue.
But echoes of the Grenfell fire in London were felt in the room as the families opened up about feeling let down by a system due to their social status in the eyes of the State.
Antoinette Keegan, whose sisters, Mary, 19 and Martin, 16, died in the fire, said: “From the time of the tragedy on 14 February, 1981, the Government wanted this to go away.
“They tried to brush it under the carpet, they covered it up year after year.
“We said we would never give up.”
Eugene Kelly, whose brother Robert, 17, died in the blaze, said: “It was the easy way out, to say someone started this fire.
“The evidence has always been there. We said to the Taoiseach the evidence has always been there.
“The evidence was always there but it was covered it up.
“We may be from a working class area but have we got strength and drive and we are not going anywhere.”
Other family members also said they felt if the disaster had taken place in “D4” they would not have endured such a long wait for a fresh inquiry.
Stardust survivor Jimmy Fitzpatrick told the Irish Independent: “These were working class kids. Ireland is a very beautiful country but the dirt is picked up and swept under the carpet.
“Had this fire happened in D4 and not D5, we wouldn’t still be fighting for answers. We wouldn’t even be here today. We would have had answers long ago.”
Former Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan, who has been supporting the families in their campaign, said there was a “class element” to Stardust “just as there was with Hillsborough.”
“These were working class kids, from working class communities,” Ms Boylan said.
“Their lives were not worth as much as kids born on the other side of the tracks.
“That’s why arson was leveled to a whole community. If this happened in another part of Dublin, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Ms Keegan said: “We are still in shock. In 38 years we’ve campaigned and my father fought to his death bed for justice for the living and the dead.
“I think today is a victory for the dead, the 48 who perished.
“They have been guiding us to get where we are.
“It’s a victory for them, for all the families who lost their lives as a result of this tragedy.
“They should still be here.”
Mr Kelly thanked the public and politicians, including People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett, for support.
“I’d like to mention the firemen who were on duty that night, it must be sickening, they went through torture that night.
“And I want to just thank them for the work they’ve done for the families. It’s sickening to see we are still fighting 38 years on.”
Me Kelly said he was “praying for closure” for all the families as he thanked the media too. “Please God we get closure.”
Solicitor for the families, Darragh Mackin, said: “For too long Stardust has been criminalised as arson...They’ve had to turn to the campaign and it is the families and Lynn Boylan who’ve brought them to this stage.
“This is not just a legal application but an issue of considerable public interest that the facts are established.
“Today is testament to the families to continue despite the endless obstacles to campaign for the truth and justice.
“Over the years the families have been spectators ... it should not have taken this long to get to this point.
“This is Ireland’s biggest atrocity.... the inquest will establish the truth of what happened that night.
“Today is a momentous day for these families in their quest for justice.
“The reality is the 48 never came home, they never got justice, they never got the truth. Today marks the start of their battle in gaining the truth.”
The inquest is expected to be the longest running in Irish history and to call the largest number of witnesses and experts.
For almost four decades, the families of those who perished in the Valentines night tragedy have campaigned for a new inquiry after the original investigation failed to bring justice.
Attorney General Séamus Woulfe yesterday wrote to the families telling them he believes fresh inquests into the deaths are advisable.
Mr Woulfe's office said in a statement: "Having carefully considered all aspects of the matter, the Attorney General has formed the opinion that fresh inquests into the Stardust deaths are advisable.
"This is because he considers that in the original inquests there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred, namely, a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire.”