After years of being sidelined, ignored and neglected, the Stardust relatives finally get redemption

Your essential end-of-week politics catch up from Michael Collins’s Trumpean bombast to Simon Harris’s big promises

The Politics Fix

Story of the Week

And the story of the past four decades: On February 14th, 1981, 800 young people attended a Valentine’s night disco in the Stardust Ballroom in Artane. A fire started which quickly engulfed the building and plunged it into darkness. Forty-eight young people died in the nightmarish mayhem that followed, and more than 200 were injured. Many could not escape because the exit doors had been chained under the orders of the manager, Eamon Butterly.

Yesterday, after 43 years, the survivors and the surviving relatives of the victims, including the redoubtable Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the fire, finally got the redemption and vindication they sought over half a lifetime.

The jury, who had sat through the year-long inquests into the deaths, returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”.

In a poignant, plaintive moment, the campaigners walked arm-in-arm from the Rotunda up to the Garden of Remembrance carrying a large banner featuring the photographs of the young people who died – many of them under the age of 18. It bore the legend: “They Never Came Home”.


Politics was never too much at a remove from all this. Many of the dead and injured came from working class backgrounds. The first tribunal of inquiry, set up shortly after the fire, controversially concluded the blaze had been set by arsonists. That allowed the Butterly family to be awarded £600,000 in compensation in 1983, despite its severe failure to make the building safe. The victims were sidelined, ignored and neglected.

That was the beginning of a long campaign by the relatives and survivors to achieve justice. There was a compensation tribunal in 1986 and then a long hiatus, even though the campaign was consistently supported by local TDs over many years. The actions included a sit-in in the Leinster House grounds by protesting relatives in 2009.

There was even a twist in the tail, when we found out yesterday that Eamon Butterly had taken a High Court action to seek an order that would prevent the jury from returning a verdict of unlawful killing.

Once the Dáil resumes next week the matter will return to the political realm, with the Government sure to offer a State apology to the dead, the injured and the relatives.

You should take time to read this extraordinary multimedia article written by our colleague Kitty Holland which tells you everything you need to know about this terrible tragedy and the terrible injustice that followed. It makes for searing reading.

Bust up

For once, it’s a mild way of describing what happened, on Thursday night. A small group of right-wing thugs – so called “patriots” – descended on the home of Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman in Dublin West and plastered it with hate-filled posters and banners. They then hung around brazenly – all wearing hoods and balaclavas – as gardaí arrived on the scene.

It was tawdry and intimidating, as captured on X by Charlotte O’Sullivan, who monitors the far right on social media.

The condemnation from other politicians across the spectrum over this disgusting behaviour was immediate. There was also puzzlement as to why gardaí did not intervene to clear the mob. Social Democrat TD Gary Gannon raised this point in a tweet last night.

“This disgusting and escalating form of intimidation cannot be normalised or facilitated any longer. I am baffled that the Garda Commissioner and the Justice Minister appear so blind to the inevitability of where their hands-off approach to these thugs is going to lead us.

That’s all very well, but does any of this affect me?

Since the days when Charles Haughey dropped a clatter of “f” bombs back in the 1980s, interviews by Hot Press magazine have been a good way for politicians to speak candidly, even unguardedly, with interviewers asking for their views on the most sensitive topics.

Recently up was Cork South West TD Michael Collins. The leader of a party which purportedly represents the rural community gave an interview that was less middle Ireland than Middle Ages.

He outdid himself with Trumpian bombast, and blew hard about a range of issues, with an unapologetic intolerance on show.

Rapists should be chemically castrated. Those who commit three serious crimes should automatically be sent to prison for 25 years. Property owners should have the right to defend themselves with guns.

“I hate to think you’d shoot somebody dead, but certainly there’s plenty of room in the legs, or over the head to frighten the living daylights out of them,” he said.

Oh, there was more. He’d support a move to ban the hijab. He would also support having holding bays for refugees who arrive in Ireland without documentation.

His party, Independent Ireland, is having difficulty finding a candidate for the South constituency in the European Parliament. The good news is that there is no whip, so they don’t have to share the Cork South West TD’s, erm, interesting views.

Banana skin

Also known as something that may come back to haunt you. We loved the modest pledge Simon Harris made last weekend – as captured in this Irish Mirror headline.

“Taoiseach Simon Harris vows to bring leadership of the Kinahan cartel to justice.”

Great to know he is easing himself into the water, and won’t be caught out by any promises he can’t fulfil.

Winners and losers

Winners: The brave survivors of the Stardust fire disaster, along with their relatives, who have got their moment of justice after 43 years.

Losers: Not that he will be too worried, but Bernard Durkan is the only Fine Gael TD who is not a minister, an office holder, or a former minister. The veteran Kildare North Deputy was left as the lone true backbencher when Eimear Higgins, Colm Burke and Alan Dillon were promoted and became Ministers of State, and Alan Farrell was appointed chairman of the party. Such is the state of Fine Gael nowadays that the terms winner/loser are interchangeable for each and every TD!

The Big Read

Pat Leahy’s column and his reporting from Brussels where the Taoiseach attended a European summit.

Miriam Lord’s Saturday column is unmissable.

Jack Horgan-Jones has a meaty (excuse the pun) piece on the Greens ahead of their conference in Dublin this weekend.

Hear here

Parallels between Polish and Irish Catholicism is one of the topics in Hugh Linehan’s Inside Politics Podcast with Irish Times Berlin Correspondent Derek Scally this week.

If you go to Poland, they would say they were very much the best Catholics in the world because they suffered the most.

—  Derek Scally