On St. Valentines Day thirty years ago, 48 young people never came home from a St. Valentines Disco in North Dublin. The Stardust Fire was one of the worst disasters in the history of the state but despite political sympathy, a Tribunal of Inquiry and a long campaign for justice, nobody has ever been held accountable for the huge loss of life and terrible injuries. SCANNAL tonight tells the emotional and emotive story of the Stardust disaster - the personal, the political and the problematic outcome that has left relatives and survivors still searching for justice 30 years on.
In the early hours of Saturday, 14th February 1981, as a disco dancing competition came to an end, a small fire was spotted in a corner of the Stardust, a popular disco in Artane on Dublin's northside. Within minutes the building was an inferno and as the fire brigade attempted to tackle the fire, panicked revellers struggled to escape the blaze in the now dark, smoke filled, former jam factory. 48 people died as a result of the Stardust fire and 128 were seriously injured, most were between 16 and 25 years old.
As Northside communities in Coolock, Artane and Donnycarney dealt with the overwhelming grief and laid to rest some of their youngest members, political reaction was swift. Charlie Haughey's Government set up a Tribunal of Inquiry which first sat within three weeks of the tragedy as the public and press questioned the scale of the loss of life on the night. The Keane Tribunal's report published in 1982 was critical of Dublin Corporation for failures in building regulations and planning inspections and the Department of the Environment for inadequate fire prevention services and deficiencies in training in the fire service. Justice Keane also criticised the owners and management of the Stardust ballroom itself for its 'recklessly dangerous practices' when it was revealed that some emergency exit doors had been locked and impeded on the night of the fire.
No criminal prosecutions were ever forthcoming in relation to the Stardust fire and the Keane Tribunal's finding that the fire was 'probably' started maliciously caused much additional grief and anguish to the families as they felt it implicated their loved ones who had attended the disco that Valentines evening. In the years since the tragedy, the Stardust families felt they were forgotten and have campaigned for an overturning of that verdict and a reinvestigation into the Stardust fire. Continuing business interests and plans for development have made the site of the tragedy a focal point for their protests, particularly on the Valentines Day anniversary.
In 2009, the Stardust families succeeded in getting the flawed Tribunal verdict of probable arson overturned, however they were to be disappointed once again as the Government did not agree to any reinvestigation into the causes of the fire. As the families commemorate the 30th anniversary this year, they are still looking for answers and accountability in relation to the deaths of their loved ones and are continuing their fight for justice.
Scannal tells the heartbreaking story of the Stardust fire thirty years on with contributions from Antoinette Keegan (a survivor who lost two sisters ); Jimmy Fitzpatrick (Survivor); Cathal Mac Coille (RTÉ Journalist and Presenter of Morning Ireland); Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin (Barrister) & Christy Moore who performs his banned song : 'They Never Came Home'.
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Reporter - Sinéad Ní Churnáin
Produced and Directed by Laura Ní Cheallaigh