Stardust families get State apology after 43 years: 'We should have stood with you'

The Taoiseach delivered a State apology to the Stardust families following their 43-year fight for justice
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.04 23 Apr 2024

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Stardust families get State apology after 43 years: 'We should have stood with you'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.04 23 Apr 2024

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The Taoiseach has apologised to families and survivors of the Stardust tragedy, saying the State 'should have stood with them'.

Simon Harris read out the names of each of the 48 people who died in the 1981 fire in the Dáil, noting that Caroline Carey's unborn baby was "the 49th victim of the Stardust tragedy".

It comes after the families 43-year fight for justice resulted last week in a verdict of unlawful killing at the inquests into their deaths.

The families gathered in the public gallery this afternoon, as the Taoiseach listed off each and every person who died in the tragedy along with an anecdote for each one.

The Stardust families listen on the speech in the Dáil public gallery The Stardust families listen on the speech in the Dáil public gallery. Image: Oireachtas TV

Mr Harris said the State and its instructions failed each of them.

"I know that you were forced to endure a living nightmare which began when your loved ones were so cruelly snatched from you in a devastating fire," he said.

"Their unfinished stories became you story, the defining story of your lives.

"I am deeply sorry that you were made to fight for so long that they went to their graves never knowing the truth.

"Today we say formally and without any equivocation, we are sorry. We failed you when you needed us the most."

'Help you heal'

Mr Harris said many more lives were 'broken and shattered'.

"From the very beginning, we should have stood with you, but instead we forced you to stand against us.

"Forty-eight young people lost their lives in the Stardust disaster - many more were injured and even more still had their lives broken and shattered forever."

Mr Harris said he hopes today can bring families "in from the cold and end the neglect of 43 years waiting and fighting for the only thing you ever wanted: the truth".

"I hope this is a moment when the State, which rubbed salt in your terrible wounds, starts to help you heal".

'More than numbers'

Mr Harris said those who were killed are "much, much more than numbers".

"They were bright, beautiful people. They had plans and dreams, their whole lives ahead of them," he said.

He then read out the names of those killed in the early hours of Valentine's Day in 1981:

  • Michael Barrett, who was working that night as an assistant DJ, he was wise beyond his years and had an infectious laugh. He was 17 years old.
  • Richard Bennett, who loved horses and took on the role of breadwinner for his family, described as ‘an angel in disguise’. He was 17.
  • Carol Bissett, a singer in the choir and a Girl Guide, quiet in her ways, much loved by all. She was 18.
  • Jimmy Buckley, the life of every party, who loved hurling and had won a competition for his Elvis impression. Father figure, brother, hero. He was 23.
  • Paula Byrne, always the peacemaker, she loved to draw, and was the epitome of kindness. She was 19.
  • Caroline Carey, a talented Irish dancer who took up disco dancing, a Dublin City Council clerical officer, who had recently found out she was going to be a mother. Her family asked me to say this baby was the 49th victim of the Stardust tragedy. Caroline was 17.
  • John Colgan, “Johnny”, always upbeat, he lit up every room and performed the ‘Hucklebuck’ as his party piece. He was going to be an uncle. He was 21.
  • Jacqueline Croker, a heart of gold, who brought music into her family’s lives on her red record player and used her wages to dress and treat her brothers and sisters. She was 18.
  • Liam Dunne, training to be a butcher, which he loved, with a passion for music, he was a loving boy with many friends. He was 18.
  • Michael Farrell, his family’s bundle of joy, he worked at Cadbury, a dapper young man who always tried to look his best. He was a deep thinker and a diarist. He was 26.
  • Michael Ffrench, “Horsey”, an auto electrician and the rock of his family, a role model who worked hard to share his wages and thought of everyone before himself. He was 18.
  • David Flood, a rocker at heart, who loved the guitar and was known for his ‘Jagger swagger’, he never missed a day of work and had all of life’s possibilities before him. He was 18.
  • Thelma Frazer, gentle and kind, loved Friday nights and disco moves, remembered by her brothers and sisters for her treats and hugs and kisses. She was 20.
  • Josephine Glen, quiet and gentle, always smiling and happy, a second mam to her brothers and sisters, who left school to help support her family. She was 16.
  • Michael Griffiths, happy, outgoing, with a great work ethic and a generous nature, he loved family occasions and Christmas, and could always be heard – laughing, singing, playing music. He was 18.
  • Robert Hillick, “Bobby”, outgoing and hardworking, he loved football and boxing, and was very close to his late brother, Bill. He was 20.
  • Brian Hobbs, his sister was known as his ‘Mammy Pat’, he was academically inclined and excelled at catering college, winning a gold medal for Ireland in competition, he was ambitious, he was going places. He was 21.
  • Eugene – ‘Hughie’ – Hogan, a skilled carpenter, a sharp dresser with a beautiful voice which could hit the high notes, a loving, caring father. He was 24.
  • Murty (Murtagh) Kavanagh, caring, kind and good natured, he was a heating insulator who looked after his father, and who loved the Dubs and Manchester United. He was 27.
  • Martina Keegan, not just a daughter and sister but a best friend and confidante, she dreamed of being a model and was studious and hardworking. She was 16.
  • Mary Keegan, beautiful inside and out, shy at heart but very fun loving and sociable, a teacher to her younger siblings she excelled at school and work. She was 19.
  • Robert Kelly, nicknamed “Spikey” for his hairstyle, he worked on the B&I boats and loved it, and he was a lover of music and embroidery. He was 17.
  • Marie Kennedy, warm and caring, lively and fiercely protective, dancing as soon as she could walk, her personality and style were as bright as her smile. She was 17.
  • Mary Kenny, popular, kind and funny, passionate about fashion and dancing, and a fan of Leeds United. She had just turned 19.
  • Margaret Kiernan, a friend to all, who loved sport and socialising, who loved to sing Roxanne, and who dreamt of a happy future in a house next door to her best friend, Deirdre. She was 18.
  • Sandra Lawless, happy, kind, funny, selfless, a Girl Guide leader and swimmer who won awards for life-saving, and loved hiking and camping in the Dublin mountains. She was 18.
  • Francis Lawlor, an army man with a love of style, he had great leadership skills and never liked to leave his beautiful baby, Lisa. He was 25.
  • Maureen Lawlor, a loving and devoted mother to Lisa, full of dreams for the future, she shared an interest in fashion with her husband Francis and was always immaculately dressed. She was 26.
  • Paula Lewis, was her mother’s right-hand woman and her father’s pride and joy, she was a second mother to her siblings and her little sister’s room-mate. She was 19.
  • Eamonn Loughman, a protector of his brothers and sisters who remember crossbars on his racer, a car enthusiast and music lover, with a deep laugh. He was 18.
  • Donna Mahon, a lovely person, who loved her job working in a newsagent, meeting people and being part of the community, and had plans to go to Santa Ponsa for her 18th birthday. She was 17.
  • Helena Mangan, kind, caring, loving, brave and strong, her daughter Samantha was the centre of her life. She loved to dance. She was 22.
  • George McDermott, a gentle music lover with a cheeky grin, he loved a bop and playing cards with his pals. He was 18.
  • Marcella McDermott, happy, singing and dancing, with the most gentle and kind nature, especially with children. She was 16.
  • William McDermott, “Willie”, a gentle giant, with a beautiful smile, soft-voiced, witty, caring and kind, he loved the weekend, the Dubliners and being on Hill 16. He was 22.
  • Julie McDonnell, caring, helpful and thoughtful, a hard worker and a provider, she loved football, coached a local team and was mad for Elvis. She was 20.
  • Teresa McDonnell, the focal point of her family, she was brave, stood up for what she believed and loved all animals. She was 16.
  • Gerard McGrath, independent and full of energy, talented with his hands and a dapper music-lover, he had a passion for the natural world and a love of birds. He was 21.
  • Caroline McHugh, an avid reader, Irish dancer and swimmer, and a member of the local CB radio club, who did well in school and work. She was 17.
  • James Millar, a sailor who had travelled the world, so happy to be engaged to be married and ready to settle down and raise a family. He was 20.
  • Susan Morgan, a tom boy, who loved football and walks, and Dublin, she was bubbly, funny, full of life. She was 19.
  • David Morton, football mad and nicknamed “Chesty” for preferring to receive the ball there than have it mess up his hair, he was mischievous, charismatic and independent, with big dreams for the future. He was 19.
  • Kathleen Muldoon, good natured and thoughtful, she wanted to be a nurse, and cared for all those around her. She was 19.
  • George O'Connor, a gentle homebody with a creative spirit who loved science fiction, he was attending his first dance. He was 17.
  • Brendan O'Meara, a talented Irish dancer and sports man, he would help anyone out in any way he could and never had a hair out of place. He was 23.
  • John Stout, sensitive and gentle, an Elvis fan who liked snooker, he planned to become a painter & decorator to contribute to the family household he loved. He was 18.
  • Margaret Thornton, a lover of fashion and music, skilled in dress-making and tailoring, she loved the pictures, concerts and especially discos. She was 19.
  • Paul Wade, a people person, good at chatting, who made friends easily, someone you simply couldn’t stay mad at. He was 17.

'Frontline workers'

Mr Harris also acknowledged all those who helped on the night of the tragedy.

"Today we think as well of the hundreds of people who were injured and scarred forever, physically and mentally," he said.

"We think of the people working in the Stardust, the waiters and waitresses, the doormen and DJs.

"We think of the frontline workers who fought to save lives on the night. The fire crews, the ambulance and hospital staff, the Gardaí, the army, the taxi drivers.

"I want to acknowledge those who came forward many years later and told their stories at the inquest".

'We should have been by your side'

Mr Haris said the families were "the victims of a mass tragedy".

"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," he said.

"Instead, it is to our great shame that State processes heaped misery upon tragedy for the Stardust families.

"I am so deeply sorry your first bid for justice ended with suspicion being cast on those who had died or survived on that catastrophic night.

"For all of this, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, I apologise unreservedly to all the families of the Stardust victims and all the survivors for the hurt that was done to them and for the profoundly painful years of struggle for the truth".

Taoiseach Simon Harris delivers a State apology to the Stardust families in the Dáil, 23-4-24 Taoiseach Simon Harris delivers a State apology to the Stardust families in the Dáil, 23-4-24. Image: Oireachtas TV

The Taoiseach said the families "should never have had to walk alone".

"We should have been by your side, walking with you. We were not. And for that we are truly sorry," he added.

Me Harris said the Government accepts the finding of the Coroner's Court and the findings of the jury.

The Department of the Taoiseach is to prepare proposals to appropriately commemorate the disaster, as requested by the families.

Read the full speech delivered by Taoiseach Simon Harris here

Reporting by: Michael Staines

Main image: The Taoiseach Simon Harris delivers a State apology to the Stardust families in the Dáil, 23-4-24. Image: Oireachtas TV

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