‘We failed you when you needed us most’ Taoiseach tells Stardust families while issuing State apology

‘We failed you when you needed us most’ Taoiseach tells Stardust families while issuing State apology

THE Taoiseach has told the Stardust families that they were “failed” by the Government when they needed them most.

Delivering a State apology during an emotional speech in the Dáil this afternoon, Simon Harris said the families of the 48 people who died in the 1981 fire should never have had to “walk alone” following the tragedy.

Members of the victims’ families who were in attendance to hear the apology were applauded by members of the house as they made their way to the gallery.

Stardust survivor and campaigner Antoinette Keegan on her way into the Dail (Leinster House) to hears the Taoiseach's apology this afternoon

“I know there have been many, many times when you thought this day would never come over far too many years,” the Taoiseach said.

“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 added.

“Their unfinished stories became your story. The defining story of your lives and the lives of your parents and other family members who left this life before ever seeing justice.

“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.”

During his address, which was directed at the families seated in the gallery, Mr Harris acknowledged each victim of the fire individually and spent time talking about their personalities before admitting the wrongs of the State following the nightclub tragedy.

To the families, who have campaigned for decades to get the truth of what happened at the nightclub in Artane on the night of the fire, he said: "From the very beginning we should have stood with you, but instead we forced you to stand against us."

Referencing the struggle faced by those families over the decades, as a series of inquests and tribunals failed to provide answers or justice for their loved ones, he said: “It is our great and eternal shame that far from the warm embrace of a caring State, the Stardust families received a cold shoulder, a deaf ear and two generations of struggle for truth and justice.

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

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

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

Fidelma Branagan leaving the Dail with family members after the Taoiseach's apology

Justice was finally won in Dublin last week when fresh inquests led by Dublin coroner Dr Myra Cullinane found that the 48 young people who died in the blaze were ‘unlawfully killed’.

“You were forced to fight for decades to obtain the vindication you won last Thursday when the inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of your 48 family members,” Mr Harris said.

“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,” he added.

“I apologise to the families that those present on the night of the fire were wrongly criminalised through the allegation of arson which was an attack on their reputations.

“I say today clearly, every person there was innocent. I say today the truth is now known. And I say today not only were they innocent, they were unlawfully killed.”

Mr Harris went on to confirm that the Government “accepts the findings and the recommendations” of the inquests and has begun the process of implementing them.

He also added that a fitting memorial to commemorate the Stardust disaster will be commissioned.