The A to Z of 2013

Abortion legislation

The A to Z of   2013

January began a new year, but the old canard of Irish public life quickly came to the fore. Oireachtas hearings into proposed abortion legislation were held in the first weeks of January, opening up the debate to doctors, psychiatrists, religious, and interested parties. Legislation was deemed necessary on foot of Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death the previous October, and a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. The issue was whether or not the threat of suicide was sufficient to rule a termination necessary to save the life of the mother.

Doctors differed, but at the end of two rounds of consultations, little was changed in the proposed bill.

The hearings had enlightened the public and given cover to the Government. Still, seven Fine Gael parliamentarians were overboard when the vote came to pass in July. Lucinda Creighton (left) was the highest profile casualty, resigning junior ministerial office to vote against her government.

Barry, Kevin

Yes, the world may now know us for our banking disaster, but, in the long-run, talent will out while hucksters run for cover. Step forward Kevin Barry, the latest in this country’s line of outstanding literary talents. In June, Barry was named as the winner of the IMPAC Literary award, which came with a cheque for €100,000. The most lucrative award in the far from lucrative world of creative writing was for his futuristic novel, City of Bohane.

Barry, who is from Limerick, and once wrote for this paper, was typically laid back about the accolade.

“It’s always nice to get out of the house as a writer, and even nicer when the sun is shining and they’re aiming pots of money at you.”

Cyrus, Miley

In August, the 20-year-old former Hannah Montana star caused outrage with her sexually explicit ‘twerking’ dance routine at the MTV video awards show. More than anything, it demonstrated that the selling of sex was reaching out to further, untamed prairies of youth. Previously, Cyrus had been an icon for pre-pubescent teens, but now she was moving up, or down, the scale with her performance.

The new Miley was on further display with the release of the video accompanying her ‘Wrecking Ball’ single, later in the year. Such was her impact on popular culture that she was beaten into second place by Pope Francis in Time magazine’s ‘person of the year’ award.

It’s all a long way from the days when her old man, Billy Ray Cyrus, used to sing ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’

Dubs

All-Ireland champions in football. Leinster champions in hurling. The future is dark, to put it brightly. Say no more.

Egypt

The Arab Spring of 2011 was supposed to sweep democracy across the Middle East, but, as we know in this country, self-determination takes a while to get off the ground. Egypt’s first attempt at democracy came a cropper during the year, when demonstrations against the elected leader, Mohammad Morsi, resulted in him being deposed by the army on Jul 3.

An Irish angle to the crisis came with the arrest of the four Halawa siblings, from Dublin, in a pro-Morsi protest in August. They were all incarcerated without trial, until the release of the three sisters on Nov 16. Their brother, Ibrahim, remains in prison in Cairo at the time of writing, as the prospect for a quick return of democracy fades.

Flag protests in the North

The hard-won peace came dropping slowly, but, every now and again, a pocket of protest reminds all of how it used to be. The flag protests began after Belfast City Council voted to discontinue flying the union flag while the body was in session. For five days in January, riots spread across the city in a fashion that recalled darker days.

The PSNI said remnants of loyalist paramilitary groups were orchestrating it, but there was no doubt that the change was viewed as the latest signpost on the long march towards a united Ireland.

The protests died down as the year wore on, but the fallout represents one more headache for US envoy Richard Hasse as he tries to bed down the peace.

Garlic Man

Fruit importer Paul Begley was told on Feb 15 that the six-year sentence he had received the previous year was being reduced to two. He was released from prison the following month, having served just over a year, in a highly controversial case.

Begley had been convicted of a long-standing fraud, perpetrated by mislabelling boxes of garlic and thereby avoiding import taxes.

The original sentence had elicited outrage, which was an interesting development in a country apparently enraged at a lack of prosecution of white-collar crimes.

Here was a crime that received an albeit heavy sentence, and the refrain from many quarters appeared to be, “no, not him. We hate bankers, not tax fraudsters.”

One way or the other, the episode is likely to serve as a deterrent for other would-be fraudsters.

Heaney, Seamus

Death’s long shadow habitually darkens our lives, but on Aug 30 much of the world keenly felt the loss of Ireland’s greatest poet, Seamus Heaney.

He was 74, and his death was unexpected to those beyond his immediate orbit.

Across the world, his poetry was remembered as he entered the annals of immortality.

Typically, the grace that informed his life was there at the end, as he sent a final text message to his wife Marie, in Latin, translated as “don’t be afraid”.

In New York, displaced members of the Irish literati smiled broadly, as they noted that his death was marked by a picture on the front page “above the fold”, a position reserved for few world greats in any generation.

His background was in farming, rather than in evoking images with a pen, a situation he described best in his poem, ‘Digging’:

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb, The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

Irish Medical Organisation (IMO)

Check this out for a tale of Celtic bubble bubbly. The chief executive of the IMO, George McNeice, resigned in February, taking with him a pension pot of €11m and nearly bankrupting the organisation.

McNeice (below) signed a contract in 2003, entitling him to a salary of €250,000, with lots of bonuses that added up, within five years, to nearly €500,000. His contract also included a clause that he could retire at 52, which he took up.

Originally, he was entitled to a pot of €20m to retire on, but he agreed to a writedown.

Through the spring, there was consternation among the 5,000 doctors he had represented.

And guess what? Nobody was to blame for the awarding of such a generous contract. At a time when many are struggling to put food on the table, McNeice showed that there will always be some winners.

Joke of the year

Stand-up comedian Rob Auton won the joke of the year at the Edinburgh comedy festival in August. Here goes: “I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa.”

Kenny, Pat.

It came like a bolt out of the blue, just as things were winding down towards the August holiday season. RTÉ’s star broadcaster was jumping the docked ship, and taking up the rigging on the choppy waters of independent radio.

Newstalk and Kenny announced the coup to a disbelieving public on Jul 31. Pat said he wanted a change, that money wasn’t the main issue. Still, you had to give the guy credit. Winding up for a new challenge at 65 is no joke.

Kenny began his new slot in the first week of September, pitted against Sean O’Rourke, who had taken up the slack in RTÉ.

The jury is still out on how many of his listeners have migrated to Newstalk mid-morning, but radio has sure got a lot more interesting.

Liam McCarthy cup

What a year. Romance and youth and the deftest of skills combined to deliver an All-Ireland hurling championship not seen this side of Cúchulainn’s early battles. The prevailing giants of the game, Kilkenny, Galway, and Tipperary, were all dispatched in early rounds. Limerick rose up and whipped a Munster title from the grasp of Cork. The Rebels then went on to beat the odds, and Kilkenny, on a damp Thurles afternoon, and with Jimmy Barry Murphy at the helm, dreams were hatched of ’99 revisited. A celestial being visited Davy Fitzgerald at the height of the summer and fashioned giants from men. They beat Galway and Limerick en route to the final, which begat two games out of the top drawer. Cork came within an inch of stealing the day on the first Sunday in September, but, by the replay, Clare had destiny all wrapped up and ready to take Liam home.

We’ll not see a year like it again, but there’s no harm in hoping.

Mandela

Nobody lives forever, but for those of a certain generation it still came as a shock when Nelson Mandela’s death was announced on Dec 5. The world united to pay tribute to a man who had straddled many roles in his long walk to freedom.

He used the law, and the law was shown to be a vulgar tool of South Africa’s rulers, who used violence. Then, he used the sacrifice of his long years of incarceration to formulate how he was going to drag his country back from the brink of civil war.

When they let him out, he used politics, and showed that he had a mastery that results from a combination of skill, grace, and courage.

National The

On Jun 28, this five-piece band from Brooklyn, via Ohio, played the Marquee in Cork. This was the band’s first visit to the city since playing the Triskel Arts Centre in 2002, when two men and a dog showed up. This time, there were 5,000 converts plugged into one of the best bands of the last decade. It was the gig of the year.

O’Neill, Martin

And the other fella. On Sept 11, Giovanni Trappattoni stepped down as Republic of Ireland manager, prompting weeks of “will he, won’t he?” about O’Neill. The Derry man was the obvious replacement, but the odds on his taking over lengthened as the weeks wore on. Then, as November dawned, the question changed to: “He cannot be serious?” But he was. O’Neill pulled off a masterstroke, by asking Roy Keane to be his assistant. The pair took over the reins on Nov 5, with O’Neill declaring he would be “bad cop”, and Keane the “bad, bad cop”. The move spoke volumes for O’Neill’s self-confidence and vision. Few in the game would have acquiesced to having as big a persona as Keane as their number two. Where others saw trouble, O’Neill has seen opportunity. Keane saw opportunity as well, and grabbed it. Long may they run.

Penalty Points

This is one that won’t go away. Late in 2012, a number of independent TDs kicked up over information they had acquired suggesting that prominent people were getting off scot-free from driving offences that carried penalty points.

Under pressure, Justice Minister Alan Shatter ordered an internal Garda inquiry. It reported in May, suggesting that there were just a few kinks in the system.

But it wouldn’t go away. The whistleblowers who had first raised the issue went to the Comptroller and Auditor General, and he published a report in September, illustrating widespread abuse.

Now the matter is before the Public Accounts Committee, which intends to hear from both the garda commissioner and one of the whistleblowers in the new year.

Quinn Sean

He rang in the new year behind the walls of the Mountjoy training unit, and was released on Jan 3, after spending nine weeks in prison for contempt of court.

To be fair to the man, he wore his sentence well, but when he emerged the record was switched on once more, and he launched into how he and his family had been wronged by everybody, including Paddy McGinty’s goat.

Even a new book, Citizen Quinn, which set out in some detail how his empire had fallen, couldn’t disrobe him of his victim’s outfit.

His son, Sean Jr, made some amends with the court, coming to an agreement to sell his luxury home in order to purge his contempt. As the year came to a close, things were looking no better for the family that was once worth €2bn, but they are investing their hope in a High Court case due for hearing in the coming year.

Reilly, James

Another annus horribilis for this most unfortunate of ministers. James Reilly (below) oversaw another raft of scandals and misadventures in the health service throughout the year, while the vultures gathered in congress outside his ministerial office.

The low point must have come in October, when his authority was deftly undermined by Brendan Howlin, with the announcement that budgets within health would have to be overseen by the Department of Public Expenditure.

One of Reilly’s problems is that he is a hostage of the promises and bluster that he engaged in before entering government.

As a doctor himself — and one who ran a successful business — he swaggered into town, but is now skulking around outside Enda Kenny’s door.

At this stage, with a reshuffle on the horizon, his ministerial future appears to be entirely invested in his friendship with, and loyalty to, Mr Kenny.

Shoes of the fisherman

Who is this guy? The question rippled around the world in the hours after white smoke went spiralling from the Sistine Chapel on Mar 13.

Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio had only featured as an also-ran in the betting.

After all, he was a Jesuit and the conclave had never elected a member of that order. He was from the southern hemisphere, from whence no pope had ever been sprung. He was certainly not a like-for-like replacement for Pope Benedict, who had retired the previous month.

His fellow cardinals were in the mood for making history. In his first address, hours after his election, he asked that people pray for both his predecessor and himself.

His election certainly gave the Church a shot in the arm.

Troika

They came, they saw, and they must have said: “Holy Moses, these Irish, they know not what they do.”

In Nov 2010, the troika arrived bearing loans, and instructions to get the country into working order. On Dec 15, they officially left, and now that we’re on our own, maybe it’s time to really batten down the hatches.

Now that the smoke has cleared, it might well be asked how different are things in this brave, new, sovereign world. Not much is the answer, but now that we’re back on our own, you’d be well-advised to stay in by the wall.

U2

He was known as the fifth member of U2, but on Nov 13 the band’s manager, Paul McGuinness, quit. He announced that he would be moving upstairs to a chairman’s role, relinquishing his day job after nearly 35 years at the helm.

In an unusual move, he issued a statement to the New York Times, rather than the media in general. “It could be seen as slightly poor etiquette for a manager to consider retiring before his artist has split, quit, or died, but U2 have never subscribed to the rock ‘n’ roll code of conduct,” he said. “As I approach the musically relevant age of 64, I have resolved to take a less hands-on role, as the band embarks on the next cycle of their extraordinary career.”

Very sad development

2013 was the year of the Selfie. For those lucky enough to be ignorant of the concept, a selfie is a photograph taken of oneself with one’s phone, or while cheek to cheek with one or more other human beings issuing smiles.

The selfie phenomenon got such a grip during the year that Barack Obama and David Cameron did the biz with the Danish PM, Helle Thorning Schmidt, at Nelson Mandela’s funeral earlier this month. World leaders doing a selfie at a funeral?

Truly, the selfie has wrapped popular culture in a narcissistic blanket and put it on a speed train to hell.

Walking gold

On Aug 14, Rob Heffernan walked into history, winning the World Championship 50km walk at the games in Moscow. It had been a long haul for the 35-year-old native of Cork, who had known many disappointing days, including the 2012 Olympics, before finally capturing the gold.

“It’s surreal, it’s just a great feeling,” he said. “When I came into the stadium, it just felt like an out-of-body experience. It’s hard to take it all in at the moment. I’m delighted.”

X-Factor

The deal. Some things, people, places, movies, books just have it. The x-factor. In the early summer, my second crime novel was published to little acclaim.

The fools, the fools, they don’t know what they’re missing. For anybody who is looking for the x-factor, it’s there to be found in the newly published paperback version, on sale in all good bookshops and online stores. How could anybody be expected to get through an A-Z without a shameless plug?

Yolanda, Typhoon

When times are economically tough, we think we have it bad, but real devastation was experienced in the Philippines, in November, when Typhoon Yolanda struck. Nine million people were displaced from their homes, and up to 10,000 died in the worst natural disaster to hit the region in years.

It’s been a cold Christmas for those who have been affected, but while the news will fade from the radar quickly, it will take years for the upheaval to pass.

Zappone, Katherine

Senator Katherine Zappone was one of the opponents to the proposed abolition of the Seanad, which was put to the people in a referendum on Oct 4.

The campaign to abolish was seen as a personal project for the Taoiseach, as he had mooted it when he was in opposition and in need of a political stunt.

Fine Gael ran a campaign based on feedback from focus groups that suggested people thought we had too many politicians. Abolition would have meant fewer politicians and save €20m per annum, Fine Gael said. Few believed them. A well-run campaign by the retentionists, allied to a laissez-faire attitude from the Government, saw a narrow defeat for the proposal.

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