Stardust victims' families: ‘It’s like it only happened yesterday’

The families of the 48 victims of the 1981 Stardust tragedy have welcomed a decision by the Government to appoint a judge to assess whether a new inquiry into the blaze is needed.

Stardust victims' families: ‘It’s like it only happened yesterday’

Antoinette Keegan, who survived the St Valentine’s night tragedy but lost her two sisters, gave a cautious approval to what was announced by Minister Finian McGrath.

Mr McGrath had threatened to leave Government unless some form of new inquiry was commenced.

“We are happy with Finian, he has always backed us up, just like [Independent Deputy] Tommy Broughan, he has been our backbone since day one. We have got what we wanted which was a judge, a retired judge. We will look at the terms of reference and we will make sure we will not fall into the same trap as before,” she told the Irish Examiner.

“We wouldn’t have had this today only for Tommy Broughan’s motion. Only his motion went in there today, there would have been no negotiations at all,” she said.

“I had to get my mother out of bed to get her in here to go through what they were going to give us. We put what we wanted on the table. They decided this was what they are going to give us.

“We want and we now have control over the eminent legal person. We want to be involved. We don’t want the report given into Government and we are left out. We wanted to be treated as equal.”

Asked what they would do if the scoping report recommends no inquiry takes place, Ms Keegan said she is convinced that won’t happen.

“There is new evidence there, there is scope for a new inquiry. There are five lads dead, 29ft away from where the fire was supposed to have started.

“The judge will be coming back and saying there are reasons to re-open this,” she added.

The families had been told, during the day, that a full inquiry was unlikely immediately, and that the best option available was the judge-led scoping exercise.

Maurice Frazer lost his sister Thelma in the Stardust tragedy.
Maurice Frazer lost his sister Thelma in the Stardust tragedy.

An agreement was only secured after 4pm as Mr McGrath’s adviser was overheard pleading with them in the corridors of the Dáil that “time is up, time is up”.

Next month will mark the 35th anniversary of the fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, on Dublin’s northside, and the memory of that event still has a profound effect on the survivors and families of the victims.

“It’s like it only happened yesterday. When you think back, 1981, we never even got counselling. We had to go off and live with what we went through,” Ms Keegan earlier told RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke.

She recalled how she found out, by accident, a few weeks after the tragedy about her sisters’ deaths while she was still in hospital.

Her parents had been instructed not to tell her as doctors feared the shock would kill her, so the devastating news came in a cack-handed fashion.

“A priest came in. He asked me what my name was. I told him ‘Antoinette Keegan.’ He said: ‘oh yeah, that’s right, your two sisters died’.’’

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