From Gerry Adams through Love/Hate, Irish Water and everything in-between, Michael Clifford recalls the big stories of 2014
A — Adams, Gerry. Twas the best and years and the worst of years for the Sinn Fein leader. His party’s rise in the polls continued unabated. On the weekend of November 2, an opinion poll put Sinn Fein as the most popular party in the state with 26% support, four points ahead of Fine Gael.
The European elections in May saw four MEPs elected for the party on the island, including three virtual unknowns in the Republic. The brand was enough to see everybody past the post.
In the local elections, the Shinners made huge gains. They are now the largest party on Dublin City Council, and now that they have responsibility on that local authority, the party’s members voted through a budget last month, for the first time in its history.
The year also saw Adams’ past coming back to have a cut at him. Mairia Cahill won many plaudits for her bravery in exposing the role of Sinn Fein/IRA in covering up the abuse she suffered. Adams claimed that she never discussed the matter of a kangaroo court with him when she came to him, but his version of events was threadbare in terms of credibility.
Still, the polls keep saying that the public don’t care. Whatever Sinn Fein is selling, more and more people want it. Let’s hope they’re not disappointed.
B — Brooks, Gareth. On July 14, Garth spoke to the Irish people. It was very sad.
“To say I am crushed is an understatement. All I see is my mother’s face and I hear her voice. She always said things happen for a reason and for the right reason. As hard as I try, I cannot see the light on this one.”
That was the nail in the coffin. None of the five concerts that had been scheduled for Croke Park a fortnight later were going ahead. Garth couldn’t let down his fans by doing the three, for which Dublin City Council had given permission, or even the four which might have been on the table. It was five or nothing.
His moma might have told him that sure, wouldn’t he go and do the three and see what happens, but Garth is made of stronger stuff. His moma never told him there would be days like this.
Planning laws were blamed for the fiasco, but closer examination suggested that putting on five gigs in a row for the first time in the history of Croke Park was asking for trouble, and nobody went out to meet the trouble head on before it was too late.
C - Calvery. The Irish movie that created the greatest hype this year was Calvery, released in April, and written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, whose last outing was The Guard.
Calvery dealt with many of the themes of post-Catholic Ireland, which, of course, had to have at its centre alleged clerical sex abuse. It boosted a whole gamut of the great and the good of Irish screen talent, led by Brendan Gleeson, who was in excellent form.
Here was a typically over-the-top review in The New Yorker. “What a great setup. It plunges us, without ado, into the guts of a moral crisis, but it also has a satisfying smack of the whodunit, or rather, a who-will-do-it. Think of Agatha Christie’s ‘A Murder Is Announced’ being handed to Dostoyesvsky for a rewrite.”
Steady on there, fella, it wasn’t that good. Later in the year, McDonagh claimed it wasn’t an Irish movie at all, which caused a kerfuffle and got John Michael much more publicity than should ever have been afforded to a fair to middling script set against a stunning background.
D — Dog, Twink’s. The dog’s name is Teddy Bear and he was kidnapped from the environs of Twink’s home on September 18. She was devastated, and pretty soon, so was the rest of the country. The search went on for days, until finally Teddy Bear was traced to a house in south Dublin. Everybody was expecting a siege to develop, complete with trained snipers and a loudhailer, telling the dog-napper to come out with his paws up.
In the end, the man came quietly and was whisked off for questioning. A file was sent to the DPP. The country at large heaved a sigh of relief.
E — Ebola — The disease without a cure is usually reserved for the imagination of film makers, but the most serious outbreak since the disease was first identified in the early seventies, occurred at the beginning of the year in West Africa. The first cases were spotted in rural Guinea, but it quickly spread to cities and into neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. The location was critical. West Africa is one of the most underdeveloped regions in the world, so controls were next to impossible.
The rest of the world woke up when it realised that this might not be contained among the poorest. Returning health workers brought the virus to Spain and the USA in particular, but other cases were also recorded in a number of western European countries. In most of these instances, patients have recovered.
On November 17, 44-year-old Dr Martin Salia died from the virus in Texas. Otherwise, the more than 6,000 deaths have largely been confined to western Africa, ensuring that the crisis slipped down the agenda of world powers.
F -Francis, Pope — A major synod on the family in mid-October exposed serious divide within the church on what else, but matters sexual. A draft release at the conclusion of the synod mentioned the “gifts and qualities” gay people can offer and the “precious support” same sex partners can offer each other.
That version was believed to have the stamp of approval of Pope Francis, but the final version was completely toned down, offering no movement on the church’s traditional opposition to homosexuality. The Pope, beloved of left wing and liberal elements within the church, had come up against the immovable object of the conservative forces.
Otherwise, he had a pretty good year.
G — Garda scandals. First there was the penalty points, which came to a head with two appearances before the Public Accounts Committee in January. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan told the politicians that he found the actions of garda whistleblowers “disgusting”. Farewell, Martin. No coming back from that.
Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the principal whistleblower, appeared a week later and expressed himself relieved that somebody was finally listening to him. The following month, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin listened to his concerns about criminal investigations, a meeting which led ultimately to the resignation in May of the Minister for Justice. Farewell, Alan.
By July a report into the Department of Justice, on foot of the garda scandals, found it to be “dysfunctional”. Farewell, secretary general, Brian Purcell. In November, Noirin O’Sullivan was appointed the new commissioner. Take it handy, Noirin.
H — Hozier — This was the year that Hozier arrived in the big time. The 24-year-old Co Wicklow musician first came to notice over a year ago with his hit, ‘Take Me To Church’, but the release of his debut album in October saw his appeal spread like wildfire, particularly across the Atlantic, where he has featured on a number of high profile talk shows. A few weeks previously he performed at the Electric Picnic in what is fast becoming an occasion to enter the annals. It looked good on TV too.
To some ears, like those of the A-Z compiler, he sounds like a man who arrived in Wicklow via the Mississippi Delta, and Van Morrison’s childhood home in East Belfast.
I — ISIS. They appeared to come out of nowhere, and next thing they were gobbling up large tracts of Iraq. The Islamic State, ISIS, finally arrived on the West’s radar as it took the northern Iraqi city of Mosel in June. From a base in war-torn Syria, this brutal self-styled state, butchered anybody who offended their fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam.
By September, NATO began bombarding strongholds and battlegrounds within the growing caliphate. Nobody dared mention the home truth that the origins of this brutal regime lie in the war in Iraq prosecuted by George Bush and his buddies.
J — Joan Burton. Her hour cameth. In the aftermath of a trouncing for the Labour party at the European and local elections in May, Eamon Gilmore announced he was resigning. Thereafter, it was really a one horse race to succeed. Alex White signed up for the race, but nobody was going to come near to beating Joan to the prize.
For three years, she had made a virtue of appearing semi-atttached to an increasingly unpopular government, but on 4 July she was officially announced as the new leader of the Labour party.
The pundits say she’s going quite a good job, but opponents refer to deckchairs and the Titanic. The real result of her tenure will come at the next general election.
K — Keane, Roy. Another year, another book. The launch took place on October 9, just two days before the Republic of Ireland played Gibralter. Roy entered cradling a book, but really everybody was there to see whether it was real. The beard, that is. It was a thing to behold. Saddam Hussain meets John the Baptist.
Roy was cool about it all. There was stuff in the book about Alex Ferguson and questions about the team’s chances in the forthcoming match, but all eyes were fixated on the beard. Was it real?
Nobody was willing to risk Roy’s fabled “thousand yard stare” by asking him. When somebody did broach the subject, he just shrugged, said he was too lazy to shave.
Then, two days later, the FAI tweeted the shock news. “We can confirm #RIPthebeard! Roy has decided to shave the night before our first home qualifier.”
It was all over. The old Roy was back among us. We’ll not see the beard’s likes again.
L — Love/Hate. Series Five of the country’s most popular drama since The Riordans, premiered on October 5. For once, all the hype was justified, as the six episodes of the latest instalments lived up to billing.
Stuart Carolan’s creation, based on gangland figures in Dublin, has been hailed as an example of excellence in Irish drama. The sharp writing was allied to great acting performances and atmospheric direction.
The season finale drew in 56% of the adult viewing population, numbering 1,005,400. Pain and pestilence was dished out at a ferocious rate in the last minutes of the series, with Siobhan getting shot dead and Nidge also being shot twice in the chest. Nidge looked as if his life was over, but don’t rule out a “Dallas” style comeback from dead.
M — McNulty, John. Poor lad. There he was, a progressive businessman from Kilcar, Co Donegal one moment, and thrust into the national spotlight the next, as a shining example of all that is wrong in politics.
Poor John McNulty found himself at the centre of a storm in September, after it emerged that he had been appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, apparently in order to give him an “arts” profile, before his election to the Seanad under the arts panel. It was plain old cronyism of the worst kind, using state boards to sort out the lads.
The new minister for the Arts, Heather Humphries, came out of the whole affair looking somewhat clueless, and Enda Kenny refused to answer questions in any way that made sense.
The upshot was poor John McNulthy never made it the Upper House, the seat going instead to independent Gerard Cauldwell. The whole affair typified the type of year Fine Gael in particular endured.
N — Northern Ireland icon, Ian Paisley. The announcement came on September 12. At the age of 88, Ian Paisley had passed away. Martin McGuinness said he had lost a friend. A whole host of politicians in both islands spoke with a guarded warmth about the man who always said No, until it suited him to say Yes.
One abiding image of Rev Paisley was testimony given to BBC journalist Peter Taylor for a documentary on loyalism he made in the 1990s. A succession of former gunmen, who were also former prisoners, related how it was after listening to Paisley’s fiery speeches, they felt compelled to murder in the name of preserving the union.
The man himself always abhorred violence, and accepted no responsibilities for inciting others to go out and kill.
O — O’Reilly, Tony. On June 23, the High Court was told that Tony O’Reilly, or, as he likes to be known, Sir Anthony O’Reilly, was insolvent. Of all the long falls from high perches, this was the most notable. As soon ago as 2012, he was reported to have been worth 1 billion, but now he is engaged in selling off his considerable property portfolio in order to meet debts of 195 million.
O’Reilly was Ireland’s first business superstar, but even before that he was a considerable presence on the rugby field, for both Ireland and the Lions.
He created Kerrygold butter, before going on the run the Hienz empire in Pitssburgh, while building Independent Newspapers into a global company in his spare time.
Waterford Wedgewood was another project he took on, and the one that ultimately did for him as he continued to borrow, chasing losses all the way to the company’s demise in 2010.
Along the way, he lived well, continuing to borrow as he took around 25 million a year in dividends out of the Independent. Yet, despite the hubris and monumental ego, his fall from grace was regarded as something of a Greek tragedy.
P — Panti Bliss. On January 11, Panti aka Rory O’Neill, appeared on the Saturday Night Show and the sky fell in. In a conversation about homophobia, the drag queen referenced a few commentators, who immediately rang their respective solicitors. The offended included John Waters, Breda O’Brien and David Quinn, but also three members of the Catholic group Iona, who although not named, felt they had been libelled by association. Grave offence was taken.
RTE bucked and forked out eighty grand. There was outrage at the decision, which, it has to be said, made sense financially from the station’s point of view. Cue a procession of victims. Panti felt victimised. John Waters felt victimised. Breda O’Brien felt victimised. LGBT groups felt victimised. It was an unholy mess.
Q — Queuing for a home. In early September, an overnight queue formed to buy new homes in an estate in Swords, north Dublin. The sight immediately brought to mind the spectre that was a constant during the housing bubble. Were we back there again?
No, said the experts, but tread softy. By November, there was agreement that a housing crisis was now upon us with the supply side the real problem. A plan to build 90,000 homes by 2020 was announced, but prices continue to go north. Keep the head down.
R — Rehab. On January 6, Angela Kerins, the well-padded chief executive of the Rehab Group, was interviewed on Morning Ireland. She was asked about her salary, but refused to reveal it. Cue a storm. By then, the country had endured months of controversy about top bods in charities being paid huge salaries. Now it was Kerins’ turn.
She later revealed that she was on 240,000, about sixty grand more than the Taoiseach. Another member of the board of the company was Fine Gael grandee, Frank Flannery. He didn’t turn up to answer questions at the Public Accounts Commitee, but was seen the same day having lunch with Phil Hogan in Leinster House.
On April 2, Kerins resigned. Flannery also resigned from Fine Gael, burdened with a sense of grievance that he would subsequently air. Kerins is set to air her grievance in a High Court action she has launched against the Public Accounts Committee. Poor Rehab, and the people with disabilities who work therein suffered reputational fall-out, but the day of well padded charity executives drew to a close.
S — Skellig Michael, location for the new Star Wars movie. In the last week of July, at the height of the tourist season, Hollywood came to South Kerry. Somehow, the movie people and government had managed to keep secret until the last minute the prospect of Hollywood’s biggest franchise filming on Skellig Michael.
Later, it was to emerge that some delicate negotiations had ensued, after filming had to be brought forward to July, despite the impact such an intrusion would have on the rock’s bird life at that time of the season.
Apparently, the rescheduling was all the fault of an accident that befell Harrison Ford earlier in the year when he broke a leg. It’s back to the old chaos theory; a septuagenarian actor breaks a leg in Hollywood, and the effects are felt by the gannet population on a rock off the Kerry coast.
In any event, it all went swimmingly. The navy even obliged by imposing an exclusion zone around the rock during filming. An RTE News crew was turned back by the navy when it attempted to get too close. In a brief but tense stand-off, it looked as if Pascal Sheehy might have ended up in the sea, like an extra from Apocolypse Now, but thankfully the navy boys held their fire.
T — Taylor, Katie. There ain’t no stopping this woman. On November 24, Taylor won her fifth consecutive world title. She was her usual modest self in the aftermath, looking forward to the next Olympic Games, when, all going well, she is set to be one of the real stars of the show.
U — U2. Three chords and the truth, mister, you can’t bate it. A new album, harking back to the streets of Dublin, entitled Songs Of Innocence, was released on September 9. This was a music release like no other. In conjunction with Apple the album was available as a free download to around 50 million heads around the world. As usual, U2 were innovative, but many in the music industry saw the stunt as contributing to the notion that music can be made for free, and musicians don’t really need to eat.
Apart from that, Bono was out of the news the odd Tuesday, but otherwise never far from the headlines. In mid-November he fell off his bike in New York and broke an arm, putting a new tour on the, wait for it, long finger (of the broken arm). It also emerged that he had been doing a spot of moonlighting for the IDA, bringing direct foreign investment to the country, when he wasn’t saving the world, or fronting an aging rock band.
V _ Varadkar, Leo. The year saw this action man of politics going from turbulent minister to the man who might save the health of a nation. On March 10, he told a gathering that the action of the garda whistleblowers had been “distinguished” rather than “disgusting” as characterised by the garda commissioner. This reignited the garda whistleblower controversy, ultimately leading to the resignation of commissioner Callinan and causing Enda Kenny a few more headaches.
Then in July, he was the surprise choice as the man to replace the hapless James Reilly in the health portfolio. So far, he has been making all the right noises, recalibrating expectations and explaining patiently what has to be done. It will be either the making or the breaking of him.
W — Water. The great fall began on 9 January when the chief executive of Irish Water John Tierney revealed that 50 million had been spent by the newly minted Irish Water on consultants. Thereafter, everything became a problem. Resistance to the water charges really took off after the Summer break. The PPS numbers, the metering, a drip, drip of stories showing how Irish Water was taking on the character of another expensive quango.
It all came to a head on October 11, when socialist Paul Murphy won a by-election on a campaign based on opposition to the charges, and a major protest march took place in Dublin.
Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly announced a new regime on November 9, but it remains to be seen whether water will be the government’s Waterloo.
X — Xabi Alonso. On the morning of June 13, Spain was one of the favourites for the World Cup, which was played in the heat of Brazil. By that evening, the empire had begun to crumble. After losing 5-1 to the Netherlands, it was all downhill from there. The great Spanish team was no more. And one man who had for the best part of a decade been the heartbeat of that team was Xabi Alonso. Apart from his other attributes, the fact that his name began with an X ensured that he would make it into this year’s A-Z.
Y — You’re nicked, Mr Callaly. On July 28 former junior minister Ivor Callely was sentenced to five months in prison for fraudulently claiming mobile phone expenses while in the Dail. He became the only figure to go to prison for abusing an expenses system that resembled a gravy train for so long. Everybody else who had used and abused the system for all it was worth were guilty of moral crimes, but Ivor was the only one jailed for crossing the legal line.
Z — zzzzz That’s a way of signalling sleep, something that Brian O’Driscoll won’t be getting much of over the festive season. The former rugby great became a father for the second time in November with the birth of his son, Billy. Earlier in the year, he had a long goodbye from his career, which went on for months as he bid farewell first of all to Lansdowne Road, then the Ireland jersey in Paris and finally to Leinster. He was one of the greats, and we’ll not see his likes again, but the way they were all going on about him, you’d swear he was The Gooch.
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