What were you doing on Valentine’s Night 1981? I can’t remember. I was young enough to still be doing some naff romantic stuff like flowers and dinner I suppose.
In north Dublin hundreds of youngsters made their way to the Stardust nightclub in Artane. They were looking for a few drinks with friends, a bit of a dance, a heightened chance of a kiss or a grope on the night that was in it. They got more than they bargained for. What transpired was one of Ireland’s worse tragedies (and they’ve had a few) which continues to deeply affect the area to this day. But as shocking in a different sense is the cover up and refusal to accept accountability that, even by Ireland’s standards of corruption (which no one bothers denying any more) is staggering.
The cause of the fire (probably in the roof area) is uncertain – I’ll come back to that. It spread rapidly and created panic amongst the clientele. But fire exits were chained, windows were barred. Heroic efforts were made by rescuers. But the outcome was 48 dead and many others injured, some very badly. There were few households in Artane, Kilmore and Coolock that were unaffected by the disaster either directly or indirectly. On a human level it was an appalling night, one of the worst imaginable.
But an inquiry was held, the facts ascertained and justice was done? Yeah right, this is Ireland where justice depends on who’s judging or being judged. The facts don’t apply as long as your connections are solid.
The Keane inquiry later that year rightly condemned the totally inadequate or absent fire precautions, the flammable material left around the building, the total non-observance of fire safety as regards exits. But – with no evidence whatsoever – the inquiry concluded that ‘probable arson’ was the cause. This convenient verdict exonerated the nightclub owners/operators and allowed them to claim compensation of €580,000.
Strangely enough, that verdict was overturned many years later. Was the compo repaid? Silly question.
The owners and operators of the nightclub have never been brought to account for the many breaches of fire safety regulations. I wonder why? Now that the Fianna Fail lot to which the owners were connected are no longer in power maybe there’s a chance yet.
Of course there have never been any apologies or expressions of regret. On the contrary, the owners have brazenly redeveloped the site seemingly unaware of the contempt of the community.
If you could illustrate how, in Ireland, it’s who you know that counts then this story sums it up. It’s been the same since the formation of the Free State and is so ingrained in the country that, for all the fine words of opposition politicians and others, nothing will change.
Christy Moore wrote a song about the Stardust Tragedy to which I commend you. Christy got prosecuted for it, which sums up the state of things. Here it is.
Enjoy Valentine’s night won’t you.