Michael Clifford's A to Z of 2017

Michael Clifford looks back at 2017

Michael Clifford's A to Z of 2017

Michael Clifford looks back at 2017

A – Adams Gerry

This was the year that the most compelling politician of his generation announced that he will step down as president of Sinn Féin. He told the party’s ard fheis on November 18 that he would be bowing out. Officially, at least.

He has controlled and dominated Sinn Féin for at least the 33 years he has served as president. During that time the “Republican movement” of which Sinn Féin is the democratic expression, finally abandoned the pursuit of their aims through killing human beings. Adams has always denied that he was in the IRA, despite claims by former members and the belief of most observers of the Northern conflict.

His career is summed up by the title of one biography, Man of Peace, Man of War. However, the war, as it was termed by the IRA, is now over for two decades. Adams’s great achievement was in persuading his comrades to abandon gun and bomb while keeping most of the family intact.

His exploits in a time of peace have been less successful, despite the continued veneration by his followers. He does not excel at the meat and drink of normal politics, and his continued presence was regarded as a retarder on Sinn Féin’s hopes of expanding. He leaves the stage to the sound of veneration from his followers but with the ghosts of the conflict snapping at his heels.

B – Brexit

Once upon a time Britannia ruled the waves, and now in the wake of Brexit, Old Blighty is having trouble staying afloat. The year saw the start of negotiations between the EU and the UK with the Europeans led by the hardy Michel Barnier, while the Brits’ delegation was headed up by David Davies, a man who gives the impression of having never rigorously examined his own intellect.

Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole, writing in The Guardian, summed up the whole situation as follows: “We have been witnessing a very English farce, but one with a wholly new twist.

“In this version of Fawlty Towers, it is not Manuel, the stereotypical foreigner who goes around saying ‘Que?’ and ‘I know nawthing’. It is the all-too-English Basil, acting out a pantomime of feigned perplexity.”

Towards the latter part of the year, the focus was here on John Bull’s other island over how to avoid a hard border.

A perfect fudge was agreed ahead of this month’s EU summit but it remains to be seen how smooth any transition might be.

C – City, Cork, FC

All credit to the city in the year of the double. The 2017 season started brightly with a 22-game unbeaten run that saw Cork nailed down as hot favourites for the title by early summer. Then, leading scorer Sean Maguire struck out for fertile pastures cross-channel and the odds crept back up a little, but enough had been done. It took a while, but on October 17, the club were declared league champions.

A few weeks later, they beat Dundalk on penalties in the FAI Cup final in what must go down as a bit of a steal.

Still, it was a terrific year for the club, particularly considering that, eight seasons ago, the future was looking grim. Next year will tell a lot but for now Cork are bestriding the League of Ireland with a certain swagger. If they can get their hands of anything resembling a Sean Maguire play-a-like, the immediate future remains bright.

D – Death Of Stalin, The

A complete indulgence on the part of the compiler of the A-Z, but this was my favourite movie of the year. Blackly funny, historically informative, and expertly acted. On reflection you wouldn’t expect anything less from Armando Ianucci.

E –Eighth Amendment

The year began with deliberations on the most contentious amendment to the Constitution in the history of the State. The process were conducted by the 99-member Citizens’ Assembly overseen by Judge Mary Laffoy.

In the end, 87% voted that the Eighth Amendment should not be retained in full. On the final day of deliberations, April 23, some 64% voted that there be no restrictions on the availability of abortion. This was a major surprise to many in Leinster House and further afield.

Judge Laffoy said the result provided a “clear map” for the Oireachtas.

The Oireachtas committee got cracking in the second half of the year. By the end of that process a majority had favoured deleting the amendment and allowing for abortion without conditions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

This again was a surprise. The committee delivered its final report the Wednesday before Christmas. Now it’s over to the Government, onto the whole Oireachtas, and then out to the people. Keep the head down. It’s won’t be pretty.

F – False breath tests

In March it was revealed there had been nearly 1m phantom breath tests recorded by An Garda Síochána between November 2011 and October 2016. Nobody had the slightest idea how this could have occurred.

A number of investigations were launched to discover whether or not this represented our old friend, “a systems failure”.

It didn’t. In September, An Garda Síochána published its report on the matter, after coming under pressure from the Minister for Justice to do so. It revealed that there had been 1.4m false breath tests recorded between 2009 and 2016. Again, nobody could figure out what had happened.

Rank-and-file gardaí claimed it had nothing to do with them. Middle management hadn’t a clue what was going on, and senior management was baffled.

In late October the Policing Authority released a report it had commissioned from independent consultants. This revealed an extra 400,000 false tests were recorded, bringing the grand total to nearly 2m. At this rate there will be a false breath test for everybody in the country pretty soon.

So what happened? The chair of the Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, put it best when she was asked whether, as some gardaí had claimed, it had anything to do with training.

“Training ought not be necessary to be honest,” she said. The search goes on for answers.

For the record, the area with the least inflated tests was Kerry, where the fierce honesty of the local populace is obviously reflected in its policing personnel.

G – Galway, All-Ireland hurling champions

Worthy champions in a hurling year for the ages. If Galway finally made it back to the Promised Land, the other big talking point of the small ball game was the re-emergence of Cork. Victories over Tipperary, Waterford, and Clare saw the Rebels win their first Munster championship since 2014. At the end of the year, Kieran Kingston stepped down and was replaced by John Meyler. The latter man is father of David Meyler, the Republic of Ireland player who was spotted running onto the turf to celebrate Cork’s Munster final victory over Clare in Semple Stadium. Any chance he might return to add a splash of colour for the Rebels now that Ireland ain’t going to Russia next summer?

H – Housing/Homeless

According to Focus Ireland, the number of people without a home in January 2017 was 7,167. The last recorded number, in November, was 8,857. Despite a booming economy,

including considerable fall in unemployment, the numbers homeless increases. There are now more than 3,300 children living in temporary accommodation.

By the beginning of the year, the Government was sticking to a pledge to ensure nobody would be in emergency  accommodation by the end of June. When the time came around, the new housing minister, Eoghan Murphy, offered various excuses for not meeting the deadline, but naturally there was no political accountability.

The one development during the year was the creation of family hubs. These are an improvement on the B&B culture as a temporary solution, but the numbers keep rising.

With no short-term impact in sight, the Government has attempted to normalise a situation where children suffer quite obvious developmental impairment while adults live in constant fear.

“We are actually a country, by international standards compared with our peers, that has a low level of homelessness,” the Taoiseach stated at his party’s annual conference.

He quoted a report that was out of date and taken out of context.

Homelessness and the related housing problem are going to continue to dominate political and social life in the coming year.


The business world isn’t necessarily a hive of drama, but this year one story had it all. Robert Pitt, the chief executive of Independent News and Media, took on the mantle of whistleblower earlier in the year when he made a protected disclosure about practices in the company to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The issue centred on a bid the company was making for Newstalk. Denis O’Brien, the main shareholder in INM, also owns Newstalk. Pitt believed the asking price for the radio station was €10m too high. The chairman of INM, Leslie Buckley, a close associate of O’Brien’s, was in favour of INM paying the higher price. Both men’s positions were backed up by corporate advisers.

Then Pitt made his protected disclosure, which had the effect of protecting his employment. He couldn’t be fired under the law.

In August, at the INM AGM, Pitt failed to vote for the re-election of Buckley as chair of the company, an unprecedented position for a CEO.

On October 12 it was announced that Pitt was leaving to “pursue other interests”. He reportedly walked out the door with €2m in his back pocket, and the satisfaction of knowing he’d played a smart game.

The corporate enforcer is still investigating INM. A yarn for boring bean counters this most certainly was not.

J – Jong-un, Kim

On February 13, a man by the name of Kim Jong-nam collapsed while walking through Terminal 2 at Kuala Lumpur airport. He was the half brother of Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea. Kim Jong-nam died in what is believed to have been an attack of the nerve agent VX, allegedly on the instructions of his half brother.

The murder was an early sign during the year that Kim Jong-un was determined to live up to the cartoon image of a James Bond villain. He must have been particularly pleased at the election of Donald Trump for he spotted in the New Yorker a kindred spirit who would continually challenge him to a urinating contest.

During the year North Korea launched a number of missile tests, one of which came very close to Japanese airspace.

In the best traditions of global diplomacy, Trump has taken to calling the dictator “Rocket Man” and the world has trembled at the sight of two headbangers playing around with millions of lives.

One positive development for Kim during the year was the cancellation of plans by Independent Alliance trio Shane Ross, John Halligan, and Finian McGrath to visit him on a peace mission. If the three spiritual Skibbereen Eagles had gone through with their mission, it would most likely have sparked all-out war.

K – Kinahan Hutch feud

In an annus horribilis for An Garda Síochána, the work of the gardaí assigned to tackle organised crime stood out like a flashing siren. The feud, which is largely just a campaign by the Kinahans to massacre anybody associated with the Hutch family, did result in two fatalities during the year.

Michael Keogh was shot dead on May 31. He is believed to have had minor links to the Kinahans. Kane McCormack, lured to a quiet spot in west Dublin where he was shot dead on December 1, was close to the Hutch family.

But diligent and intelligent work by gardaí ensured that at least a dozen other planned attacks did not happen. While elements of the force were shown up as being slipshod, the same could not be said for those patrolling gangland.

The murder of Kane McCormack, however, was particularly poignant. In December of last year his father, Noel Kirwin, was also murdered as part of the feud.

L – Leo

On June 2 Leo Varadkar was elected leader of Fine Gael. Twelve days later he was elected Taoiseach, the first gay son of an Indian immigrant to lead the country. At 38, he was also the youngest to hold office.

However, these details faded into the background after he announced that he wanted to lead a party that represented the “people who get up early in the morning”. The more astute among the electorate would have observed that to prosper in Leo’s Ireland, it was necessary to acquire the reputation for getting up early in the morning and then one could lounge around in bed all day.

His progress since assuming office has been quite impressive but has suffered from the perception that perception is everything with him. Of particular interest has been the establishment of a communications hub with an annual budget of €5m. Its main function would appear to be to tell the world how great Leo art.

On the international front, he has the cut of a man who is happy in his socks to be mingling with young, good-looking leaders like himself. He has shown that he knows how to use his knife and fork at international knees ups.

Towards the end of the year he endured the best of times and the worst of times. The latter came when he made a hames of the Frances Fitzgerald issues over what she knew and when about attempts to undermine Maurice McCabe.

Then, a few days later, he spearheaded the diplomatic coup of securing a “soft border” from Brexit come what may. He is looking good heading into the new year but if a week is a long time in politics, there’s an eternity between now and the next election.

M – Minister of the Year, Mr Shane Ross

Lord Ross of Stepaside put in a sterling performance throughout the year. Nominally, he was the Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport but early on he appointed himself to oversee putting manners on the judiciary.

He promoted reform of judicial appointments — which was needed — but decided that the judges’ role in doing so should be relegated as they might appoint their buddies to the bench. During the first half of the year he demanded that all appointments cease until his new, cleansing bill was enacted.

In doing so, Lord Ross ascended to the upper reaches of the high moral ground where only the most virtuous can breathe the rarified air.

Then along came Stepaside. In June, Leo Varadkar moved to appoint outgoing attorney general Maire Whelan to the Court of Appeal. This was the Lord’s chance to be master. He could have stopped the appointment on a matter of principle.

At the same meeting it was announced that Stepaside Garda Station, in Ross’s constituency, would reopen. For some strange reason, this softened the cough of Lord Ross and everybody left happy.

In September, the station’s reopening was confirmed. On RTÉ’s Prime Time he was asked whether there was a stroke involved. “You’re asking me was it stroke politics? The answer to that is absolutely no.” People made up their own minds.

N – Nobel Peace Prize winner gone wrong

Aung San Suu Kyi (below) has had a terrible year but it is nothing compared to that which has befallen a minority people in Myanmar.

Since August 25 more than over 625,000 Rohingya people have fled their homes in Myanmar and crossed over into Bangladesh. They have effectively been driven from their homes by state-sponsored violence which amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Meanwhile, San Suu Kyi, once regarded as a beacon of the oppressed and standard bearer of human rights, has stood idly by. Nominally she is leader of Myanmar but there are suspicions that she is not fully in control.

One way or the other she has not so much as raised a protest. As a result she has been condemned far and wide.

“It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in a letter to his “dearly beloved younger sister”, as he described her.

Yet she maintains her silence as the killing and ethnic cleansing persists.

Over here, even Bono has raised concerns about his erstwhile friend for whom he once campaigned throughout a concert tour. And Bob Geldof handed back his freedom of Dublin honour on the basis that she was also awarded the scroll.

As of now, things don’t look any brighter for the Rohingya people for the new year.

O – Ophelia, Storm

On the morning of October 16, the country was subjected to the kind of weather event that is fairly routine throughout large tracts of the globe — we were hit by a hurricane.

Storm Ophelia (we’re not yet practised enough in this business to distinguish between storms and hurricanes) made landfall on the Monday morning in south Kerry and rapidly headed north through a country that had battened down the hatches.

Wind and rain lashed all and sundry as daily life came to a stop. Effectively, the day was all but cancelled.

Overall, it wasn’t the horrifying experience that had largely been predicted, but there was personal tragedy. Three people lost their lives throughout the day in storm-related fatalities.

P – Petty, Tom

The previous year had been writ large with the loss of musical icons including Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael, but 2017 also saw one of the greats depart for the crowded gig in the sky.

Tom Petty was found unconscious at his home in Los Angeles on October 2.

He was two weeks short of his 67th birthday.

Petty was the all-American guy in the best sense of that phrase. He sang of Free Fallin’ in the land of hope and dreams and how he won’t back down from anything that is thrown at him.

He and his band the Heartbreakers broke through in the 1970s and endured thereafter into late middle age. In the 1980s he wrote and toured with Bob Dylan which led to his inclusion in the Travellin’ Wilburys, alongside with Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, and Roy Orbison. Three members of that group are now sadly departed.

Q – Quitting

Rarely in public life does anybody quit, resign, depart with some grace. This year saw three big heads roll. The first was Enda Kenny as taoiseach. He had signalled his departure but a gaffe in relation to the Maurice McCabe story in February saw the date brought forward. Finally, after weeks of speculation he announced, on May 17, he was leaving.

Nóirín O’Sullivan announced, on September 10, that she was leaving her beleaguered post as Garda commissioner. She had been mired in a number of controversies, including the McCabe story and how she had responded to the financial scandal in the Garda training college and the fake breath tests issue.

Two years earlier she had been appointed as the first woman to hold the post.

Another woman who trailblazed for her gender departed on November 28. Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation was also linked to how she had handled the McCabe story.

In a year of quitting it was the McCabe story that kept coming back to bite those in power. Rumour has it there’s a great book in the shops about that whole story if you’re looking to find a home for your Christmas book vouchers.

R – Ryanair

In September flights affecting up to 700,000 passengers were cancelled by the high-flying, low-budget airline. The problem arose over a shortage of pilots, but initially Michael O’Leary (right) put it down to a scheduling cock-up.

His first response was to give the pilots one of his routine kicks up the transtrom.

He said that pilots were “precious about themselves” and “full of their own self-importance”. Warming to one of his favourite themes, he went on: “I would challenge any pilot to explain how this is a difficult job or how it is they are overworked, or how anybody who by law can’t fly more than 18 hours a week could possibly be suffering from fatigue.”

Throughout December, pilots in various European hubs, including Dublin, announced there would be industrial action over the right to representation.

Then, on December 15, the world turned on its axis. Ryanair announced it would recognise trade unions. At the time of going to print the dust has not settled on this new epoch. Poor Mickser. He vowed hell would freeze over before he would contemplate this day.

S – Sexual harassment

It started with Harvey Weinstein and God only knows where it will end.

In October, the New York Times and the New Yorker reported that more than a dozen women had accused the movie mogul of sexual assault, harassment, and even rape.

Weinstein stepped away from his lucrative production business straight away but the dam had been burst. Since then there has been a constant stream of controversies encompassing powerful figures in entertainment, business, the arts, and politics right across the globe, whose careers have come to an abrupt halt on the foot of allegations of one sort or another.

In this country former director of the Gate Michael Colgan and comedian/broadcaster Al Porter have been the subject of allegations, albeit ones of a completely different order to those levelled at Weinstein.

The hashtag campaign #METOO has seen more and more women, in particular, coming forward to relate how they had been subjected to sexual harassment.

Almost all the allegations are framed within a power relationship.

T – Tracker mortgage scandal

This was the year that the tracker mortgage scandal was dragged out into the open. The issue involved banks failing to allow mortgage holders take up a tracker rate when they were entitled to do so.

The scandal saw more than 30,000 mortgage holders adversely affected, some of whom lost their homes, others who suffered hardship and life-altering stress over a period of years.

Once again, the banks were in the dock. Nobody has thus far been held personally responsible for the latest financial scandal to emerge from the sector.

A turning point was the appearance before an Oireachtas finance committee meeting by those affected on October 12.

The Ryan family from Wexford related what they had been put through.

“My family has suffered enormously due to the stress involved. I suffered a stroke in 2013 with lasting consequences to my life, family, and work,” Thomas Ryan told the committee.

“My wife, Claire, had a nervous breakdown in 2015, losing her ability to speak.

“It was a horrific experience, not only for Claire, but also our children as she went through long periods nervously stuttering and stammering without uttering an understandable word.

“These life-changing traumas are etched on our memories forever. Claire can no longer attend large gatherings and gets extremely stressed over minor issues.”

Most customers were to have been compensated by the end of the year but the pain goes on.

U – USA, President of

Hot damn! Has the world ever seen a leader like Mr Trump? Has a world power ever had a man who could make friends perpetually tremble in fear, while enemies sit back and enjoy the ride. Donald Trump is such a man.

The president’s year has been one of constant drama, crisis, and conflict, just as he likes it. The main focus of his presidency has been himself. But more than anything he has perfected the art of lying without consequence.

The most notable feature of the year was his governing by tweet. His Twitter machine clicks into gear early in the morning and is liable to set the agenda for the world for the following 24 hours.

Tweet of the year has to go to the following, which was directed at another star o‘ this year’s A-Z, Kim John-un: Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat? Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen.

Historians are already noting that Trump’s is a completely new departure in the art of global diplomacy. As for the Donald, the coming year promises to be no less dramatic.

V – Vincent

On Thursday, July 27, Vincent Browne arched his eyebrows for one last time and said goodnight. So came down the curtain on a decade of the Tonight with Vincent Browne programme on TV3. During that time Browne’s unique style ensured that he attracted huge viewing figures for a late night show that consisted simply of chat and debate.

What lifted it into its own realm was the presenter’s unique personality and style. He could veer between high indignation, fury, and farce. And that might be within the space of a single sentence.

His show could also claim to have launched the political careers of the late Peter Mathews and the Wexford TD Mick Wallace. Browne later admitted that he told both men they hadn’t a hope of getting elected.

W – Water protest trial

On June 29 a jury in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court returned a not-guilty verdict on six men charged with falsely imprisoning former tánaiste Joan Burton in November 2014.

The trial had lasted for nine weeks and was highly charged, both politically and emotionally. The Solidarity TD Paul Murphy was among the defendants along with two elected party colleagues. All had had their lives effectively suspended for two-and-a-half years awaiting a trial that could have seen them jailed.

Burton, who had been subjected to a harrowing ordeal in Jobstown, west Dublin, in the incident in question, gave evidence at the trial, as did her assistant, Karen O’Connell.

The trial was controversial on a number fronts. In the first instance, there were allegations that a number of gardaí had manufactured evidence in the case. There were also questions over why the case had been brought at all as the quality and quantity of evidence against the defendants was relatively thin.

There was also an issue over organised dissemination of propaganda in favour of the defendants on social media while the trial was on.

Afterwards, Murphy said what occurred in the court had been “disgusting” and that Burton had attempted “to criminalise a working class community”, which was, by any stretch of the imagination, wildly inaccurate.

He and his party colleagues called for an inquiry into the Garda evidence but said there should not be any inquiry into whether there had been an attempt to undermine the trial through social media. An Garda Síochána announced an inquiry of sorts but nobody is holding their breath.

And so it was the last drama in the water charge issue played out.

X - X, iPhone

The latest model of that little yoke that is fast ruling our lives. This is the 10th incarnation of the iPhone and went on the market in September. If you haven’t seen your friends or family waving it about the place

in the last three months that’s probably because it retails at over €1,000.

If you have seen anybody waving it about, tell them to get a life.

Y – Youthquake

This word was selected by the Oxford Dictionaries as the 2017 word of the year. It is defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influences of young people”. The term increased in usage by 401%, according to the Oxford Dictionary.

The increase may well be due to the influence of young people in political movement during the year, in a shift away from the perception that the young no longer engage in politics. Two jurisdictions where youthquake was made known was the UK and New Zealand, both of which had elections where the youth vote was significant.

It remains to be seen whether we have a youthquake at the next election in this country, but the parties have been warned.

Z – Zebo, Simon

This is not a gratuitous use of Mr Zebo on the basis that he gets the A-Z out of a hole with his surname.

In October it was announced that the mercurial and exciting Cork native will depart Munster at the end of the current season.

He is expected to join Paris club Racing 92 on a contract said to be worth up to €700,000 a year, more than twice what he could have expected to make in Ireland.

The controversy surrounds the IRFU policy of declining to pick any players who ply their trade outside of the country. This means that Zebo’s international career may now be at an end.

Notably, the policy wasn’t invoked when Johnny Sexton spent time in France, but then Sexton is from Dublin. Quite obviously what’s sauce for the Leinster goose is not sauce for the Munster gander.

Thank you, Mr Zebo, for being newsworthy in 2017, which was not a great year for Zs.

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up