When a loved one dies, we may sometimes talk about getting “closure”, an overused term that nonetheless expresses the importance of leaving grief behind in order to aid the healing process.
For most people, it is achieved within months or a few short years, but when death comes as a result of unspeakable tragedy, it may take far longer. For the families of the 48 victims of the Stardust fire, closure can only come about when they are given the full facts of how and, more importantly, why their loved ones died. That includes attributing liability for those deaths in a clear and unequivocal manner.
That is something that has eluded the Stardust families for decades, despite the fact that a tribunal of inquiry revealed that means of escape at the ballroom were barred or blocked for those trying to flee the inferno. For the mothers and fathers of the victims, the Stardust disaster has left too many issues unresolved and too many unanswered questions for them to get closure and for their children to rest in peace.
But, now, at last, there is renewed hope that they may get the answers they have been seeking for decades.
To the surprise of many of the families, Attorney General Séamus Woulfe has decided to order new inquests into the deaths. In a statement issued by his office, Mr Woulfe said that, having carefully considered all aspects of the matter, he has formed the opinion that fresh inquests into the Stardust deaths are advisable.
“This is because he considers that in the original inquests there was an insufficiency of inquiry as to how the deaths occurred, namely, a failure to sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire,” the statement said.
The decision to reopen the inquests is testament to the strength and resolve of those who have been fighting for justice over the years. It also represents not only a stinging critique of previous inquests but also an indictment of the tribunal of inquiry into the tragedy.
Among its conclusions, the tribunal, headed by Mr Justice Ronan Keane, found that the fire had been started deliberately, a conclusion that continues to bewilder the families and their legal representatives.
Most of the victims of the inferno were teenagers, which makes the snuffing out of lives that had barely begun all the more tragic. They were among the 841 young people at the Stardust ballroom in Artane for the St Valentine’s dance in 1981.
The girls delighted in their Abba-esque hair and outfits while the boys practised their John Travolta moves for the night’s disco-dancing contest — a moment captured forever by a Stardust memorial erected in 1993 in the Dublin suburb of Coolock where many of the victims lived.
Though nothing will bring back their loved ones, the ongoing concerns expressed by the families of those who died have at last been validated by the decision of the attorney general to order new inquests.
It is now up to whoever conducts those inquests to ensure that they are fully vindicated and that justice for the families and for those who perished will, at last, prevail.