Irish premier Simon Harris said he “apologised unreservedly” to the families of the 48 people killed in a fire at a Dublin nightclub in 1981, after a more than 40-year campaign for justice.

Families whose loved ones died when the blaze ripped through the Stardust nightclub met Mr Harris on Saturday when they were also told they would receive a formal State apology in the Irish parliament.

After the meeting at Government Buildings in Dublin, campaigners said they had been invited to the Dail on Tuesday for an official apology.

They said families will also receive individual written apologies.

Taoiseach Simon Harris (red tie bottom right) welcomes the families to Government Buildings in Dublin
Taoiseach Simon Harris (red tie bottom right) welcomes the families to Government Buildings in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

The families, who were with the Taoiseach for about 90 minutes on Saturday, are to work with Government officials on the wording of Tuesday’s apology.

It comes after an inquest jury returned a verdict on Thursday that the 48 victims were all unlawfully killed.

A previous finding in 1982 said that the fire had been started deliberately, a theory the families never accepted.

That ruling was dismissed in 2009, leading to the latest inquests for the victims, who were aged from 16 to 27 and mostly came from the surrounding north Dublin area.

A majority decision from the jury of seven women and five men found the blaze, which broke out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1981, was instead caused by an electrical fault in the hot press of the bar.

On Saturday morning, the families walked with a banner remembering their relatives towards Government Buildings.

They were greeted by the Taoiseach who spoke to them in the courtyard and shook their hands before going into the official meeting.

In a statement, Mr Harris said: “It was a humbling and emotional meeting. I want to thank every person who attended for what they told me, both as a group and in private individual conversations.

“More than 70 people came to the Department of the Taoiseach today. However, I am acutely aware that the number affected by Stardust is many, many multiples of that.

“That includes those injured, the people working in Stardust, the frontline workers who fought to save lives on the night. It includes survivors, the fire crews, the ambulance staff, the gardai, the army, the taxi drivers and the communities across Ireland who have carried this tragedy with them for 43 years.

“I have listened closely to everything the families told me and as Taoiseach, I have today apologised unreservedly to each family. I will do so on behalf of the State on Tuesday next.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, campaigners said Mr Harris listened to the families and apologised.

Antoinette Keegan, whose sisters Mary and Martina died, and who survived the fire herself, said the meeting went “very well”.

She said the names of the 48 victims will be read out in the Dail.

She added: “He’s invited us all back in to hear the public apology and it is very positive what he’s doing – he’s addressing every issue.”

Ms Keegan said the families had felt abandoned by the State.

“They were bagged and tagged for 43 years. This inquest has opened a new chapter for us. Now, they’ve gotten their identity back, they’ve gotten their good name back.”

Survivors, family members and supporters hold pictures of those they lost
Survivors, family members and supporters hold pictures of those they lost (Brian Lawless/PA)

She said the families’ legal team would be working with Mr Harris on the apology, adding: “If it’s not right, we won’t be accepting it.”

Carol Barrett, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed in the fire, said the apology needed to be “robust, meaningful and transparent”.

She said: “It has to be worth the paper it’s written on. It has to take a lot of time and its not to be rushed.”

Maurice McHugh, who lost his only child, 17-year-old Caroline, in the tragedy, welcomed the upcoming apology but added: “It has to be genuine, it can’t just be sorry, it needs to be more than that.

“Forty-three years of history – he has a hell of a lot of work to do in three days.”

His wife Phyllis McHugh said she was “annoyed” that that politicians had let families down in the past, adding: “They should have been there from day one.”

Three of Brigid McDermott’s children were among the dead: William, 22, George, 18, and Marcella, 16.

Speaking on Saturday after the meeting with Mr Harris, Mrs McDermott, who is now 87, said: “I’m proud of myself and everyone and all the mothers, fathers who went through what we did.

“God bless and thank everyone, especially the public – thank you all.”

Asked what the apology would mean to her, she said: “It’s just to hear they’re sorry – but it’s a bit late for me.”

Darragh Mackin, the solicitor for the majority of the Stardust families, said: “We’re hopeful that the apology will reflect the hurt, the suffering, the trauma but most importantly the truth.”

He added: “Between now and Tuesday, we’ve offered to engage directly with the Taoiseach on the content of the apology.

“We hope that the Taoiseach listened to the various families – we’re confident that he did.

“Families want it reflected that for 40 years they were criminalised, and now the truth has been told.

“They want the State to apologise for the systemic abuse they suffered and we hope that is contained in the apology on Tuesday.”

He said it was “far too early” to discuss a redress scheme.

The families also met Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald earlier in the day.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) with Stardust fire survivor Antoinette Keegan (left)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) with Stardust fire survivor Antoinette Keegan (left) (PA)

She said a full state apology to the Stardust families is “essential”.

Ms McDonald said: “For four decades, they have faced obstacle after obstacle put in front of them by the State.

“That is why it is vital that a State apology is now made and that it address the failures of governments not just 43 years ago in the aftermath of this tragedy but every day since then.

“They had to fight until 2019 to get a second inquest and they had to continue to fight the State every day until the inquest started.

“They had to fight to ensure that the resources were in place so every family could participate in the inquest and get access to justice.”