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Stardust families receive overdue State apology

Taoiseach Simon Harris dispensed with any preamble and got straight to the point of his Dáil speech.

Maybe that’s because the Stardust families had already waited 43 years for justice.

He acknowledged that they had been “forced to endure a living nightmare” and he then apologised.

The Taoiseach said: “Today we say formally, and without any equivocation: We are sorry. We failed you, when you needed us the most.”

He underlined the gross political failure over four decades: “From the very beginning, we should have stood with you, but instead we forced you to stand against us.”

When proceedings began at 2pm, the families of the victims were given a standing ovation when Leas-Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly acknowledged their presence.

They then looked on as the Taoiseach spoke about their incredible pain, suffering and loss.

The Taoiseach apologised ‘unreservedly to all the families of the Stardust victims’

He suggested that the 48 victims’ “… unfinished stories became your story, the defining story of your lives and the lives of your parents and other family members who left this life before ever seeing justice”.

He then proceeded to read out the names of each of the victims and gave some details about their lives – something he delivered with empathy.

Margaret Kiernan was “a friend to all, who loved sports and socialising,” and singing ‘Roxanne’.

Maureen Lawlor was a loving, devoted mother.

Donna Mahon, who loved her job in the newsagents, was just 17 years old.

The Taoiseach then came back to his main point – the overdue State apology: “On behalf of this State. I apologise unreservedly to all the families of the Stardust victims and all the survivors for the hurt that was done to them.

“And for the profoundly painful years of struggle for the truth.”

Mr Harris said that the apology was sorely needed because “… the families of those present on the night of the fire were wrongly criminalised through the allegation of arson, which was an attack on their reputations… Every person there was innocent”.

He also gave a commitment that the Government “accepts the recommendations of the jury” of the Dublin City Coroner’s Court, adding that the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and other relevant ministers will report back on the implementation of its recommendations.

Ms McDonald said the State abused its power at every turn

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was equally strong in her condemnation of what the Stardust families were forced to endure.

She said: “At each and every turn, the State abused its power to bully, intimidate, pressure and coerce heartbroken mothers, grieving fathers and devastated families.”

“The State placed so little or no value on the lives of 48 working class young people whose lives were snuffed out,” she said, and “that’s the cold, hard truth”.

Notably, she chose not to pick any holes in the Taoiseach’s speech for either being inadequate or incorrect.

There were other notable interventions.

Senior Fine Gael backbencher and local TD Richard Burton said a burning sense of injustice fired these families throughout a very long struggle.

He then put his hands up: “We, who have represented them in the constituency, have failed them.

“Your anger and frustration with politicians and with the system is amply justified.”

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Haughey, whose father Charles was Taoiseach at the time of the tragedy, expressed similar sentiments.

He told the Dáil: “I genuinely believe that I consistently followed up any issue that the [Stardust] Committee asked me to do.

“I raised various matters in the Dáil, I wrote to the relevant ministers as requested.

“But if I’m honest though – this was not enough.”

Deputy Haughey also said: “I also admit that my relations with the Committee were at times fraught. And I do regret that.”

As he made his comments, some of the Stardust families shook their heads.

The issuing of State apologies isn’t uncommon but doesn’t happen very often.

Today was about the Stardust families and the 48 victims who never came home

In January 2022, then Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued a formal apology for the hurt experienced by many former residents of mother and baby institutions and county homes.

As Minister for Health 20 years previously, Mr Martin apologised on behalf of the State to the haemophilia community which endured “so much suffering” from the way successive Governments handled the contaminated blood disaster.

In October 2019, then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar issued an apology in the Dáil on behalf of the State to the women and their loved ones affected by failings in the CervicalCheck screening programme.

In February 2013, then Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued an apology on behalf of the Government in Dáil Éireann to women who were resident in Magdalene Laundries for hurt done to them and any stigma suffered by reason of their residence in those institutions.

Today, however, was about the Stardust families and the 48 victims who never came home.

What happened in the Dáil was an important moment for those families.

Outstanding issues, like prosecutions or compensation, were left for another day.

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