IT has been four decades since that terrible Valentine’s night at Stardust in 1981, but now the truth is finally beginning to emerge.
Until this week, the new inquest into the Dublin nightclub tragedy that killed 48 people had heard evidence of who the victims were.
The coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, is to be commended for affording the families and friends of those who died the platform to remind us all of who those innocents were.
The poignant pen portraits melted even the hardest of hearts.
Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, all lost in a fire from which they could not escape.
The original inquest in 1982 lasted just five days and left important questions unanswered.
They included substantive issues, such as how the fire started and spread, why the doors and windows were sealed, what the response of the emergency services was, whether appropriate fire certificates were in place and whether was there a Garda investigation, and if not, why not.
Instead, it contented itself with listing the cause of death for each victim. It was in many respects perfunctory.
The victims and their grieving families were left to cope with their immeasurable loss alone and in silence. The nation grieved with them for the few solemn days following the tragedy, and then it moved on to matters new.
That inquest failed to provide the kind of conclusive findings those grieving and this country needed. It should have, of course, delved deeper into what had happened. The families left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives deserved the truth. They never got it.
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That’s how Ireland worked in the 1980s. Citizens were powerless against a state and a system that held all the cards and ruled accordingly.
They fought against all the odds, but the Stardust families never gave in. And today, after a long, arduous and often futile slog for the truth, they are in a place where the answers they so desperately need are upon them.
On Tuesday, the inquest was told that more than 300 witnesses would be called to give testimony about what really transpired that night.
The inquiry may well last until the end of the year, such is the weight of evidence to be put before the 15 members of the Coroner’s Court jury panel.
Then on Wednesday, the first bombshell (it was known by everyone who lived on the capital’s northside since the inferno, by the way) was dropped.
The court was told that the toilet windows in the Stardust had been fitted with steel plates and iron bars — welded on, no less — for “security reasons”, just six weeks before the tragedy.
SHIVER DOWN SPINE
Barrister Mark Tottenham from the coroner’s team told the jury that steel plates were secured over the windows in two of the toilets, while the loos to the east of the building did not have windows at all.
He added: “While their primary purpose was for ventilation, it might have been possible for a person to get through in an emergency.
“But at the time of the fire, steel plates had been welded internally to the frames of the windows. There were also vertical bars welded to the outside of the windows.
“The steel plates had been fitted by management about six weeks prior to the fire for security purposes.”
That piece of evidence alone sent a shiver down my spine. It must have brought back horrid memories too for those who were in the Stardust that night.
As the days of summer tick by, what transpired on February 14, 1981, will dominate the news — and rightly so. The truth will always out in the end.
RON MAN FOR THE JOB
THE Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is a clown.
The anti-woke politician has taken on Disney over its pro-trans stance, amid much hilarity. Remarkably, he is gaining traction among some voters (the brain dead) for going head to head with Mickey Mouse.
This week, he launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for Presidency alongside Twitter owner Elon Musk on his doomed social media platform.
It didn’t go so well. “Tech problems” meant DeSantis and Musk were on mute for about 25 minutes. Many users were booted off the platform unexpectedly. In short, the Big Reveal was a disaster.
He’s finding it tough against Mickey Mouse. Imagine how hard it’s going to be against Trump to get the nod.
A loser from the off.
VILEST OF CLAMPER
THE lowest form of humanity is the car clamper. Especially those outside funerals who catch mourners overstaying by 15 minutes.
It happened to me and a fellow mourner this week. The service went on a little longer than expected.
We’d both paid for parking to 13.05. We got back to our cars at 13.20 to find the ugly STOP sticker pasted to our windscreens and a yellow triangle chained to our wheels.
The car park is on public land, but the council has leased it to a private company (a practice that should be outlawed forthwith) who operate it as nothing more than a money-making venture.
To target mourners at a funeral is lower than a snake’s belly. It’s disgusting behaviour.
We had to pay to be unclamped of course. There is no other way out.
But I’ll tell you one thing, we are both going to appeal and the company in question is going to get both barrels.
OUR LAND IS THEIRS
I MET a beautiful young Ukrainian family on a walk last week.
They had fled the war in Melitopol in southern Ukraine last year and Ireland is now their home.
Their two young children had persistent smiles on their faces. They were a joy to get to know.
They want nothing more than to go back home, but until then our land is theirs, as it should be.
I NEVER liked Beyonce. Too much bouncing around for my liking.
And as for her music, well let’s just say it’s like something you’d hear in a chicken coup when a cock strolls by at 5am.
But how and ever. She has gone up in my estimation hugely this week.
She bagged a big Indian curry order in Sunderland after a gig on Monday. And clearly likes it spicy, like me.
WE DON’T LIKE ‘EM APPLES
IT’S gas that the European Union says Apple owes Ireland €13.1BILLION in tax and our lot in government say: “Nah, we don’t want it.”
Hilarious it is. If it weren’t so bloody serious.
The country is on its knees infrastructurally. Not enough houses, buses, trains, anything. And our government turns its nose up at what is rightfully theirs. And a tidy sum at that.
The EU courts ruled in Apple and Ireland’s favour last year, saying the tax bill was wrong, essentially.
However, the European Commission is adamant the €13.1billion is owed to us and has taken an appeal.
The ruling on that appeal will take six months, we’re told, during which time the €13.1billion will be held in an escrow account.
If Ireland and Apple wins, Apple keeps the money. If the EU wins, Ireland gets the loot.
I know who I’m shouting for and it ain’t our lot in Dail Eireann. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Leo.
THE French have banned internal flights where a train that takes two and a half hours or less exists on the same route.
Their initiative is to be commended. I heard calls for it to be introduced in Ireland this week. Lads, you live in the Land Of Make-Believe.
Unlike France, Ireland has no high-speed rail services.
You can travel from Paris to Bordeaux, Lyon, Rennes and Strasbourg in about two and a half hours by TGV. Here it will take you three hours, at best, to travel the 120-odd miles from Dublin to Sligo.
High speed rail is the future for Ireland. But at the speed things happen in this country, I’ll be in my mid-90s (I’m 53 now) before they’d even secure planning permission.
GO ON MY SON
WHATEVER the result on Monday, I am proud of the Owls.
They did the impossible and came back from 4-0 down to beat Peterborough in the League One play-off semi-final last week, as you all know.
On Monday, they face South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley in the Wembley final. Promotion to the Championship is the prize.
Wednesday sold out their 38,000 ticket allocation in 60 hours this week. My son got one. I can’t go!
He’ll be my eyes and ears and throat as we do battle.