I’m not sure why I feel compelled to write about this again – here’s my post of three years ago. The rather silly occasion that is Valentine’s Day sparks it off I guess.
It was on 14th February 1981, Artane, North Dublin. Fire broke out at the Stardust nightspot which was packed with over 800 mainly young people. The fire exits were variously locked or chained. The windows were either steel-shuttered or barred. Many were trapped as the fire raced through the building. 48 were killed, hundreds more injured. The toll would have been considerably higher only for the brave and heroic efforts of rescuers including those who had escaped and then risked their lives again by frantically trying to free their friends and others.
Few families in North Dublin were unaffected. To this day the shadow lies heavily over that part of the city. Every morning many Dubliners wake and the nightmare begins all over.
But beyond the human tragedy it is appalling how Irish officialdom – there to serve the people of the country – has treated the issue. The Director of Public Prosecutions deemed that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to instigate criminal proceedings against the owner of the building. Only a lawyer would be able to explain how that could be possible given the facts.
There was an enquiry. It was headed by one Justice Ronan Keane, appointed by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charles Haughey. Three times during his report Keane stated that there was ‘no evidence’ that the fire had been deliberately started. Then he shocked everyone with his verdict that ‘the probable explanation of the fire is that it was caused deliberately.’ This astonishing verdict exonerated the owners, protected them from civil claims and allowed them to successfully claim compensation from Dublin City Corporation.
There was plenty of evidence at that time – and more has emerged since – that the fire started in an overhead storeroom filled with combustible materials. The electrics were probably overloaded. Flames were seen at roof level by witnesses ten minutes before they appeared downstairs in the club. It was 100% not arson and indeed a 2008 review concluded that this cause be omitted from the public record.
Yet the true cause of the fire remains officially unspoken. The compensation was not repaid. No one has been held to account or charged for breaches of fire regulations, let alone manslaughter. The families are still seeking a further enquiry but this has been refused by successive governments.
It’s the Irish way. The incident threatened to shine a light into too many dark corners. If it’s politically inconvenient then kick it down the road until people forget about it. In most functioning democracies justice would have been served long ago.
The Stardust owner, Eamon Butterly, has been vilified in Dublin ever since. It is difficult to find sympathy. Only the briefest of mumbled apologies, suggesting that he too is a victim. Nothing publicly from the wider family who might otherwise be accounted as innocent. And they have brazenly redeveloped the site under their own name giving the finger to the victims and their families. In less peaceable places it wouldn’t have been possible. The approbation they have brought on themselves.
If you’re a Facebooker you might want to follow the campaign for justice here. And again here is Christy Moore’s song for the victims. And give a listen to this beautiful song of remembrance by Ray Heffernan and the Grand Canal Band.
Enjoy Valentine’s Day.