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Stardust fire survivor Antoinette Keegan on her close bond of friendship with Charlie Bird

‘He got very emotional when the coroner was saying the inquest wasn't going to be held until April. He started shaking his head. He was very angry’

Charlie and Antoinette arrive at the hearing this week© Gareth Chaney

23/11/2022 Family and friends of the Stradust families at The Coroners Court inquest into the Stardust tragedy at the Rotunda on Parnell Square, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos© Gareth Chaney

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

Stardust fire survivor and campaigner Antoinette Keegan has spoken of the close bond of friendship that she has developed with Charlie Bird, who’s been supporting their campaign for justice.

This week, the former RTÉ reporter joined Antoinette and other families at a pre-inquest hearing at Dublin District Coroners Court when it was revealed that the inquest itself would not begin until next April.

Despite the recent conclusion of a High Court case in relation to the inquests, the Dublin City Coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, said there would be a further 19- or 20-week wait to allow for a jury to be selected.

This was not the news that Antoinette or some of the other families would have been hoping for, as more than three years have passed since then attorney-general Seamus Wolfe ordered that a fresh inquest be held into the deaths of 48 people in the Dublin nightclub fire on Valentine’s Day, 1981.

“I actually thought this was an early April Fool’s jokewhen I heard that,” Antoinette said afterwards. “They say theywon’t be ready until April, but we’re ready now and so is our legal team.

“They’re talking about needing a pool of 3,000 people to select a jury from while we’re saying that should be reduced to 300, to speed up the process.

“We have another meeting with the coroner on December 15 and that’s what we’ll be telling her.”

Charlie, who had marched earlier with the families to the hearing, sat beside Antoinette through the long afternoon but had to leave.

“He was getting upset,” Antoinette explained. “I kept saying to Charlie, ‘when you’ve had enough, let me know and we’ll leave’,

“He got very emotional when the coroner was saying the inquest wasn’t going to be held until April. He started shaking his head. He was very angry.”

Antoinette, whose two sisters – Mary and Martina – died in the fire, explained that she’d become very close to Charlie, who had been one of the first journalists who arrived at the scene on the night.

“Over the years, he kept in touch with my mother and he developed a very close relationship with her. He was one of the first people to call me when she passed away, to offer his condolences,” Antoinette added.

“He kept in touch with me then through the years and he texted me to tell me he had been diagnosed with MND. To be honest, I’d never heard of it before and when I googled it I thought, ‘oh, my God. Poor Charlie’ It’s horrible to see what he’s going through.

‘It’s absolutely heartbreaking. He’s just one of those people that puts others before himself, regardless of what he’s going through.”

Meanwhile, the Stardust families are preparing to stage further protests if there are any more delays to the inquest process.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Antoinette said. “They can’t now say it won’t happen any later than April. If anything they can bring it forward.

“There are only 11 parents left of the 48 people who died in the fire. Both my parents are gone and there’s only one couple that is left alive.

“So there is a line drawn in the sand now of April next year.

“We’re going to get this moved forward to February or at the very latest March, but if we need to start protesting again, we will.”​

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