Supporting Opinion

State’s Stardust apology is the beginning – not the end

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When you look at the photographs now, 43 years on, you’re shocked how young they were. Many of the 800 people who flocked to the Stardust Ballroom on that fateful night were teenagers – children really – just starting out on the adventure of adulthood.

The facts are very well known. On February 14 1981, 800 young people attended a Valentine 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; over 200 were injured. Many could not escape because the exit doors had been chained under the orders of the manager, Eamon Butterly, a son of the owner.

The building was a fire hazard. The fact that the doors were locked meant that once the electricity went and the place plunged into darkness and smoke that people were trapped inside in the inferno.

Last week the survivors and the surviving relatives of the victims, finally got the redemption and vindication they sought over half a lifetime. including the redoubtable Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the fire and has campaigned ceaselessly for truth and justice over four decades.

The jury who sat through the year-long inquest 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’.

The first Tribunal of Inquiry was set up shortly after the fire. It controversially concluded the fire had been set by arsonists. There was insufficient evidence to back up that finding. In fact, Superintendent John Courtney, the senior garda who led the investigation into the fire, said there was no evidence to support arson.

The upshot of the arson finding was that the family who owned the building were able to claim the fire had been started maliciously.

The Butterlys were awarded £600,000 in compensation in 1983 despite its severe failure to make the building safe. That was an injustice in itself.

The lawyers also benefited. I remember reading about 20 years afterwards the fees that had been charged by the leading lawyers at the Tribunal.

At the end of 1981, £236,000 (about €280,000) had been paid out to eleven lawyers. That was at a time when the average industrial wage was well under £100 a week.

Pictured: Taoiseach Simon Harris apologising to the families of the victims of the Stardust Tragedy this week.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

More like this:

Sign Up To get Weekly Sports UPDATES

Go Up