Just for once, can ordinary Irish people get some justice?

I fucking hate Valentine’s Day.

Not because it’s a bullshit Hallmark holiday, but because of what that date and that day mean to the people from my part of Dublin.

Dawn on Valentine’s Day in 1981 on the northside brought with it the smell of smoke and the unfathomable news of the tragedy that was the fire in the Stardust, where 48 young people died.

214 more sustained non-fatal injuries.

579 others were there and escaped more or less physically unscathed.

But blood and burns and broken bones are not the only way to measure injury.

A whole city has been steeped in trauma ever since.

For days, the hearses criss-crossed between the churches in our communities. In the months afterwards we saw them on our streets, the young people whose skin had been melted from their bones as the molten ceilings collapsed, their hair burned off their scalps, their lungs destroyed.

Ask anyone who made it out and they will tell you the anguished cries from those trapped inside was the second-worst thing they ever heard in their lives, beaten only by the silence as the screams stopped for good.

Time has not healed those wounds – in the case of the Stardust, it only made them deeper.

The people of Coolock and Donnycarney and Finglas buried their children – their pride and joy – and then, as the months went on, they heard that these childrenĀ  died because the fire exits were chained shut, all to ensure that no-one got in for free.

But this is Ireland, and no-one is ever responsible, and the vicious lies that are the lot of working-class people were aired in defence of those who should have shouldered the blame.

The fire was blamed on arson; incredibly, it was a claim taken seriously. The dead were smeared, the seed of doubt planted. What would you expect from these northside pigs, but grunts?

The other night I sat and listened to my friend Clare’s mother as she spoke about her memory of that night, and how one of her friends was grounded. Clare’s mam and another pal begged her friend’s mam to relent, and eventually she did and they went off to the disco together.

The grounded girl died in the inferno, and that guilt has never lessened.

If only.

If only.

If only.

That cursed fucking day passed again this year as it always does, lip service paid to the idea of justice for the families, but whereas once the graves in Balgriffin and Sutton were filled with the young victims of this terrible tragedy, now they are being followed by the parents who have fought so long for the truth, but time is running out.

Aoife Moore, a working-class woman from the city of Derry, another place to have known the icy hand of tragedy, wrote movingly about Christine Keegan when she passed away last year.

Christine and her husband John lost two daughters that night, and almost lost a third, but people like Christine and John and Antoinette who survived don’t matter to Ireland.

They are working-class people, and as such have nothing to offer but their labour and their sacrifice – in their case the highest sacrifice of all, as they buried two of their children, only to find the truth of why their children died would be buried even deeper.

Then this week comes the news that the hours and hours of testimony about the Mother And Baby Homes had been destroyed, and eventually one has to realise that this is no accident; this is a systemic denial of justice to those looked down upon by the powers that be.

You’d want to believe that people in power are doing their best for all of us, but time and again they tell us who they are.

Time and again they protected paedophiles and rapists.

Time and again they protected those who bankrupted the country and forced thousands into exile, giving the bankers back their place at the trough as quickly as possible.

Time and again they protected those who said that it was right that the fire exits at the Stardust should remain locked, lest the box office be down a few quid.

I was going on ten years of age when the Stardust happened. I have never once gone into a bar or a nightclub since without knowing how I was going to get out of it. In the aftermath schools and businesses held fire drills, new regulations came in, and we all became safety-conscious. Every green exit sign I see reminds me of those 48 children who never came home.

But nobody ever spent a night in jail over the chains on the fire exits.

Nobody has been arrested yet over the 798 children buried without record at a former Mother And Baby home in Tuam, County Galway.

Because when it comes to the Irish working class, it’s not worth it. They are only valued for their labour, their sacrifice, and their silence.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, Irish leaders – the people briefly selected to hold power before the next bunch of inevitable disappointments takes over – could say “this is not right, and it needs to be fixed – what do you want and need?” instead of kicking the can down the road?

Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a country where those in power used it for the ordinary people, instead of playing the long game and simply waiting for them to die off without compensation, without reparation, without acknowledgement of the grievous wrongs that have been inflicted upon them?

Every year on Valentine’s Day, I think not of chocolates and roses and love and poems.

I think of padlocks and chains on fire exits.

I think of those screams as the firemen tried to pull the bars off the toilet windows, before that deafening, deathly silence fell suddenly and told them that their efforts were in vain.

I think of the dull, grey days and the hearses and funerals, the long list of 48 names read out in our churches as they were laid to rest, and again a month later, and I think of the short list of those held to account for what happened – no-one.

And I ask – wouldn’t it be great if, just for once, ordinary Irish people could get some justice?

 

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