Stardust families call for State apology for four decades of ‘pain and trauma’

Following the verdict of unlawful killing there were cries and cheers from the hundreds of family members packed into the Pillar Room in the Rotunda hospital

Families of the 48 young people unlawfully killed in the Stardust nightclub inferno have called for a State apology for four decades of “pain and trauma” after fresh inquests into their deaths concluded on Thursday.

Following the verdict of unlawful killing, which was returned by the 12-person jury at Dublin District Coroner’s Court in respect of each of those who perished in the St Valentine’s blaze in 1981 there were cries and cheers from the hundreds of family members packed into the Pillar Room in the Rotunda hospital, where the court had been sitting.

Many stood to their feet in applause, holding each other and sobbing.

The five men and seven women jurors had heard more than 90 days of evidence and testimony from 373 witnesses in the longest such inquiry in the State into the deaths as a result of the fire in the north Dublin nightclub in the early hours of February 14th.


The jury found for the first time the cause of the fire was an electrical fault in a hot-press in the main bar next to an area of seating known as the west alcove. They found the polyurethane foam in the seats, the almost 3,000 carpet tiles lining the internal walls and the low height of the ceiling in the alcove had contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.

They found lack of visibility because of black smoke, lack of knowledge of the layout of the building, the toxicity of the smoke and gases, the heat of the fire, the speed of the spread of the fire, the failure of the emergency lighting and lack of staff preparedness impeded people’s escape.

At the time of the fire some or all of the six exits were locked, chained or otherwise obstructed, they found. All these factors, said the jury, contributed to the deaths of the 48, who were aged 16 to 27 years.

The findings were described as “momentous” by Darragh Mackin, solicitor for 44 of the 45 families. “After four decades the truth has now been told,” he said. “We can’t forget that four decades ago these families were criminalised and the victims, the neighbours the community were all told they were not telling the truth. This verdict vindicates and exonerates those families.”

He continued: “The families are calling on the Government to apologise. They have been put through four decades of pain and trauma. It is now time for the Government to apologise for those actions to ensure the families’ vindication is put in a formally, by way of an apology.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris, speaking in Brussels after the European summit, said he had asked the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General to consider the inquest findings and advise the Government on their implications shortly. He also telephoned the families of the victims and is due to meet them soon.

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the blaze but lost her sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16), said she was “overwhelmed” by the verdict. “I am in a daze. The truth has been told ... We never gave up. We couldn’t.”

President Michael D Higgins led tributes to the families. He said the verdict was “a vindication of the fight of those relatives, a promised fulfilled, carried out over 43 long years, by the relatives, friends and community of the 48 young people ... who had their lives cut short on a night they had simply set out to spend and enjoy in the company of their friends.”

The inquests had only taken place “due to endurance and tenacity in the insistence of their families never to give up and to have a conclusion as to fact”.

Dublin coroner Dr Myra Cullinane, at the conclusion of the verdicts addressed the families, acknowledging the Stardust fire, and subsequent loss of their loved ones, was the root of the “defining loss of their lives”. She said she hoped that the families would take solace from the inquests.

In her final words, for the 48 who lost their lives “on that fateful night” she said that theirs were the lives “we sought to vindicate” by holding the inquests over the last year.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times