After being let down so many times in her fight for justice for the victims of the Stardust fire, she wasn’t assuming the latest report into the disaster would provide any comfort.
“I thought I might be picketing the Dáil again next week so I said I better be prepared. My feet nearly froze a few times,” she said, laughing at her unnecessary purchases.
Gertrude lost her son, Michael, a 17-year-old plumber, in the fire at the Valentine’s disco in Artane, Dublin in 1981, and this was the first time she ever laughed at anything connected with the tragedy.
After receiving the latest report by Government-appointed barrister Paul Coffey yesterday, however, she felt an almost dizzying relief. “When I go to Michael’s grave now I’m going to throw myself down on the ground and kiss the earth,” she said. “I owed it to Michael to get justice. I wouldn’t have been worth my salt as his mother if I didn’t.”
Her reaction was mirrored by other members of the Stardust Victims Committee, despite the fact that Mr Coffey’s report did not find in favour of their call for a fresh public hearing to hear new evidence they gathered in recent years that the fire started in the roof space and was caused by faulty electrics and the presence of hazardous materials.
This was a direct contradiction of the original 1981 tribunal of inquiry’s highly controversial finding that the inferno started in the seating and began when someone among the hundreds of young clubbers deliberately set fire to it.
Mr Coffey concluded the fire did start in the roof space but said the Victims Committee did not have enough evidence to prove the cause. But of far more importance to the bereaved families was his firm ruling that the tribunal was wrong to conclude that the fire was due to arson. He said there was simply no evidence to that effect.
“The tribunal has placed on the public record a finding of probable criminal wrongdoing which is speculative and fraught with evidential and logical difficulties,” he said. “The tribunal’s finding has provoked anger and indignation among the survivors and the bereaved who perceive it to cast suspicion of criminal wrongdoing over all who attended the Stardust on the night of the fire.”
The Government is now to correct the public record, an unprecedented action as it effectively overturns the ruling of a state inquiry.
Bríd McDermott, who lost three children in the fire, Marcella, 16; George, 18 and William, 22, said the outcome was everything she hoped for.
“I didn’t think I would ever see this day, that we would get justice for our children and for all the injured still living with this. Nothing will bring our children back but I think I can go up the stairs at night, past my photographs of Willie, Marcella and George, and feel I have peace of mind.”