Irish premier ‘eager to be in a position to apologise’ over Stardust tragedy

Irish premier Simon Harris has said he is “eager to be in a position to apologise” to the families of those killed in the Stardust fire tragedy.

Families of the 48 young people who died in the blaze that ripped through the nightclub in north Dublin in 1981 have called for an official state apology.

Earlier this week, following fresh inquests, a jury returned a verdict that they were unlawfully killed.

It comes after a previous finding in 1982 that the fire had been started deliberately.

Hot School Meals Programme
Simon Harris is keen to meet families of the Stardust victims (Niall Carson/PA)

But on Thursday a majority decision from the jury of seven women and five men found the blaze, which broke out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1981, started due to an electrical fault in the hot press of the bar.

Families of the victims embraced one another after the verdict at the Pillar Room in Dublin city.

On Friday morning, Susan Behan, whose brother John Colgan was among those killed, said the Government should issue an official state apology, describing it as “the right thing to do”.

Taoiseach Mr Harris said he hopes to meet with the families on Saturday.

He said he is “eager to be in a position to apologise to these families”, but wanted to meet them first.

“I have reached out to the families today and I have offered to meet them tomorrow,” he told media while attending an event in Co Carlow on Friday.

“I am very keen to meet with the families and very conscious that these families have felt unheard for decades, and I want to make sure that they know that I’m listening, that I want to hear them and, of course, I want to be in a position as Taoiseach to apologise on behalf of this country, but I think the most appropriate thing to do is to meet with them.”

Stardust nightclub fire inquest
Survivors, family members and supporters in the garden of remembrance in Dublin after the verdict of unlawful killing was returned (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Harris said he spoke to Stardust survivor Antoinette Keegan on Thursday following the verdict.

“I have reached out today to offer to meet the families tomorrow, if that works for them, or if not at another time of their choosing,” he said.

“I am eager to be in a position to apologise to these families but I think it’s right and proper that I meet them first.”

Asked about further investigations into Stardust, Mr Harris said: “I am aware that the gardai will be reviewing the coroner’s report, that’s right and proper that they do.

“I am also conscious that my colleague, the Minister for Justice, will ask the Attorney General to consider the report from the coroner as well.

“As Taoiseach, I feel very strongly that it is important that the State recognises the pain, the suffering and the trauma, and the appalling long time these families have had to work, campaign and fight for truth and justice.”

Earlier, Ms Behan told RTE Radio’s Morning Ireland Programme: “I feel it’s important for us because I think we were ignored. I really do feel we were ignored. I feel they were so disrespectful to us.

Stardust nightclub fire inquest
A man gestures as he leaves Dublin Coroner’s Court after the verdict was returned (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We were left to our own devices, that shouldn’t have been the case, so now it shouldn’t be a big deal for them to turn around and say ‘we’re sorry, we got it wrong’, and apologise to us.

“It’s the very least they could do and it shouldn’t take them a long time to know what to do.

“Do the right thing and give the public apology. We deserve it. Our loved ones deserve it.”

She said the verdict on Thursday “meant so much to finally hear our loved ones were unlawfully killed”.

“So many emotions. It’s been such a long time coming,” she said.

“When we heard it, it was just unreal. All those emotions, 43 years, then we finally, finally hear those words. It was just unbelievable. It really was.

“It’s very hard to put it into words to be honest because this morning I actually can’t believe it. So relieved that finally we have the justice we deserved.”