Posted by George Morrison

Stardust Fire                    Word on the Week                     23rd September 2023.

It was St Valentine’s night, February 14th 1981 and the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, was packed to capacity.   A fire broke out which was to claim the lives of 48 young people and injure over 200.   It was tragic.   

Such was the scale of the disaster that initially it was attributed to arson or terrorism.   Gradually the investigation reached the conclusion that the fire developed from poor safety practices and building code violations.   The 5 exit doors were chained and locked to prevent access to the nightclub.   The toilet windows were barred with steel bars for the same purpose.

In 2009, four relatives of those who had died were successful in establishing an inquiry which duly found there to be no evidence to support the arson theory.   These findings enabled the owners, the Butterly family, to pursue a claim for compensation against the city because of the arson finding, and were eventually awarded IR£580,000.

This year, following multiple reports, a legal enquiry under Michael O’Higgins SC has been established and meetings began this week.   These have brought into the light the 5 locked exits and barred toilet windows which pertained while approx. 800 patrons were in the nightclub.

Initial pleadings have produced accusations and denials as to who instructed the locking of the doors.    The community, who lost loved ones and have had to live with the scars of that fateful night, want answers.  

Who instructed the exits to be locked?   As with any disaster there must be those who know the truth.   The owners and staff who were on duty that fateful night have had to live with their consciences for 42 years.   So far the problems of guilt and shame have silenced those who are guilty.

Michael O’Higgins has a mammoth task to elicit the truth.   In addition to the fatalities there have been about 25 attempted suicides in subsequent years all relating to the fire.   There needs to be some acknowledgement of wrong, some admission of guilt to ease the troubled conscience.

It is not as if all the rest of humanity is guiltless.   The Apostle James puts the bar at the highest notch.   He says to sin at all is to be guilty of breaking the entire law (St James 2 verse 10).   That is why we need a saviour.   And that is why Jesus came.   Noel Richards hymn says it clearly: –

You took all my guilt and shame,
When You died and rose again;
Now today You reign,
In heaven and earth exalted.                                                                                                

The relief of sins forgiven brings with it the peace of the Lord (St Luke 7 verses 48/50).