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Stardust verdict gives hope to families of Whiddy tragedy

April 29th, 2024 9:00 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

Stardust verdict gives hope to families of Whiddy tragedy Image
The families want a new inquest into the 50 deaths at Whiddy in 1979. (Photo: Ian Vickery)

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THE verdict in the long-running inquest into the Stardust tragedy has given fresh hope to the families of the Whiddy Oil Terminal disaster of 1979.

Solicitor for the families, Michael Kingston, whose own father was killed in the Betelgueuse disaster of 1979, was present in Dublin last week when the jury in the Stardust inquest returned the verdict of ‘unlawful killing’.

He told The Southern Star this week that the Stardust verdict has given new hope to the families of the oil terminal tragedy.

Mr Kingston has written to Taoiseach Simon Harris, reminding him that it is now 43 years since the disaster in Bantry Bay, which took the lives of 50 people in total.

‘They were left without rescue to die for an inordinate period before the ship exploded,’ said Mr Kingston. ‘My father, just 31 at the time, is adjudged to have died from “asphyxiation due to accidental drowning”. This is not how he died.’

An inquest took place on July 12th 1979 before the facts were established in the Tribunal Report of 1980, he said.

‘The State apology to the Stardust families will be void of any iota of moral authority, in circumstances where the State cannot engage in any meaningful way with the families of the Whiddy Island disaster, or other families who are enduring eternal torture following loss in the Irish State,’ he added.

Mr Kingston has pointed out to the new Taoiseach that Gulf Oil Corporation, as confirmed by the 1980 Tribunal Report, was allowed to ‘do as it pleased’.

Actions on the night resulted in 50 people being left to die, many incinerated, as in the Stardust club, with 23 bodies never recovered.

‘Two that were recovered remain unidentified in a grave in Bantry, the State never employing modern techniques to identify them and give solace to two French families,’ Mr Kingston said.

‘Not only is it urgent that the Whiddy Island inquests are re-convened to establish the truth about how 50 people died, which is, in itself, a massive issue of public interest given the lies and rumours that pervade, but the public interest in fixing the cavalier approach to our State’s maritime safety regulation that caused their death is urgent, for the protection of everyone that uses the sea.’

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday night, Cork North Central TD Mick Barry of PBP Solidarity urged Taoiseach Harris to order a new Whiddy inquest.

Mr Kingston has also urged Taoiseach Harris to meet with the Whiddy Island families, as a matter of urgency, and announce fresh inquests.

‘As families of the Whiddy Island disaster, this week, and every week, we hold a special place in our hearts for the victims of the Stardust tragedy,’ he said.

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