'Reassuring' | 

Stardust survivor has ‘positive talk’ with Taoiseach as memorial unveiled

"This is the biggest inquest in the history of the state, it was done for the free legal aid, so we can do it for this and get the inquest done."

Antoinette Keegan with former journalist Charlie Bird at the candlelit vigil for the 41st anniversary of the Stardust

Ciara O'Loughlin

Stardust survivor and campaigner Antoinette Keegan said she had a positive talk with Taoiseach Michéal Martin about the inquest into the tragedy.

Ms Keegan, who survived the blaze which killed 48 young people including her two sisters at the Stardust nightclub in Artane in 1981, said she told him jurors need to be paid for the inquest to go ahead.

Unlike criminal cases, a juror's employer is not obliged to pay those on coroner juries.

Speaking about her meeting with the Taoiseach, the Stardust survivor told Independent.ie: “It was positive, he took my number and everything and said to get in touch.

"We discussed a couple of issues that are outstanding, we have the venue but we can’t proceed because of the jury selection and the jury payment.

Stardust survivor Antoinette Keegan with Charlie Bird at the unveiling of the memorial. Picture: Collins

"This is the biggest inquest in the history of the state, it was done for the free legal aid, so we can do it for this and get the inquest done.

"I said to him the legal aid was amended so that everybody could get legal aid and the same could be done for the jury payment. I said nobody is going to sit on a jury for four to six months without any income.

“It is reassuring, he said he would look into it.”

Ms Keegan was speaking outside the Richmond Education and Event Centre today, formerly Richmond Hospital, as two memorials were presented - one in honour of people who died from Covid-19 and one for the 48 victims of the Stardust tragedy.

Many of those who were injured in the fire on February 14, 1981, were treated in the former hospital.

The benches were unveiled by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, INMO president Karen McGowan and veteran broadcaster Charlie Bird.

The Taoiseach confirmed he spoke to the families of the relatives that were present yesterday and that he will relay their concerns to the Minister for Justice.

"I had a meeting with the relatives of those who lost their lives in the Stardust in relation to some aspects of the inquest and panelling of jurors and I will take them back to the Minister for Justice and pursue some of the issues that were risen,” he said.

Mr Martin said both events, the Stardust tragedy and Covid-19, reflect the centrality of frontline workers and first responders in our lives.

“Particularly after the Stardust fire,” he added. “Many victims were treated here and many families who came here were well received.

“They still speak fondly of the work that the nurses did and how they looked after them.

“Many families across the country are in debt to nurses, midwives, doctors and healthcare staff who looked after people during Covid. It’s a very dignified memorial to those who lost their lives.”

Ms Keegan said it is exhausting to still be seeking justice for her two sisters 41 years after they lost their lives in the fire, and is appreciative of the bench that was designed by Irish artist Robert Ballagh.

She added: "We really congratulate Phil Ní Sheaghdha [INMO Secretary] and everyone involved in this unveiling because it’s beautiful and we’re really proud of it.”

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the organisation was particularly happy to be able to unveil the two benches on Valentine's Day.

“I think today, on Valentine’s Day, we’re delighted to be able to unveil the memorial bench for the Stardust victims, and also for all of those who lost their lives during the Covid pandemic,” she said.

“Particularly health care workers and our own members who perished providing care to those who were infected with Covid-19.

“We think it’s a small but significant token that we mark it today. We’re delighted that the families of Stardust were able to join us and also that the Taoiseach of the country came and addressed both our members and also the families of the Stardust.

“We were reminded of your loss and it shaped us into being better nurses. We honour you and hope it shows you we appreciate your loss.

“We honour our colleagues who have struggled working during the pandemic and do it with respect.

“I am proud of the Irish state and how we dealt with it. We did well. We lost co-workers but not as many as others, and we are proud of that.”

Journalist Charlie Bird, who covered the Stardust tragedy and has been involved in the survivors' campaign since 1981, became emotional at the ceremony as he said the families are still fighting so hard for justice.

In a pre-recorded message he played on an iPad that uses technology to replicate his own voice, Mr Bird said: “I have said this so many times before – if the Stardust tragedy happened in some middle-class area of this country, or indeed on the southside of Dublin, we would not be here today still trying to find out what happened on the dreadful cold February night.

“So after 41 years, you still have not got the answers and justice you deserve, and for as long as I can, I will do anything I can to help you. I keep saying this. I really mean it. You are a most remarkable group of people.”

The journalist, who has motor neurone disease which affects his voice, thanked all the nurses in attendance at the ceremony as he said they have saved his life.

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