FERGUS FINLAY: There were many big losers in 2016, including us, but we shall overcome

There has never been a year in my memory when so many uncharacteristically hostile attitudes
came to the fore in world politics, writes Fergus Finlay

T’S BEEN a wonderful Christmas in our house.

You find every year that you can rediscover the joy of this time of year through the eyes of your grandkids.

And as they grow, the different dimensions of Christmas dawn on them too.

Sure, there’s endless excitement about toys — and far too many of them! — but there’s singing in the school choir too, and quiet moments with their mum that are a joy to watch.

My own kids, when they were young, started a family tradition of bringing toys every Christmas to a local refuge, and they still insist on doing that.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for them without the chance to give as well as receive, and I’ve always been very glad of that.

And throughout the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched teams of hard working people throughout Barnardos, in all our projects and in head office, preparing parcels of presents and practical gifts for hundreds of families.

We’re always overwhelmed at this time of year by the generosity of people — companies and individuals, and hundreds of schoolchildren too — who realise that Christmas isn’t going to be easy in every house, and who go the extra yard to ensure there’ll be enough to go around.

And we were able to be as certain as we could be that Santa Claus got to every chimney where he was expected.

Now it’s over, and there’s time to reflect.

In many ways it has been an extraordinary year.

Normally around now I try to make predictions about what next year will bring.

But actually this past year has featured more dramatic collapses and losses than almost any year I can remember.

Here are just a few of them.

You could call them the year’s biggest losers awards — but I’m not really sure anyone wants them.

Year’s biggest loser 1:

There were many big losers in 2016, including us, but we shall overcome

He was riding high this time last year.

He had confounded the pundits by winning an outright majority in a general election, and was a rock solid leader of his party.

The only real commitment he had had to make, in the interests of party unity, was to hold a referendum after the election.

And he clearly made that commitment blithely, in the sure belief it couldn’t be lost.

But he made a complete hames of the referendum, and the outcome cost him his career and his entire reputation.

It’s hard to imagine anyone making a bigger mess this past year — to the point where his name is almost forgotten — than David Cameron.

Year’s biggest loser 2:

There were many big losers in 2016, including us, but we shall overcome

How did she lose?

The first woman to be nominated by a major political party for the highest office in the land. The winner of most of the primaries she contested.

The clear winner of debates against a disastrous opponent, who constantly shot his mouth off and refused to release his tax return.

In the end, more people voted for her than have ever voted for any American, male or female, in history.

And still, incredibly, Hillary Clinton lost, and must now watch as Donald Trump paints the White House gold.

Year’s biggest loser 3:

There were many big losers in 2016, including us, but we shall overcome

And maybe not.

He led his party to 76 seats in 2011 and to 50 this year – a loss of a third on the previous result (he had also lost a number along the way).

He ran what was by common consensus one of the worst campaigns in many years, with a campaign slogan that most people found offensive and a set of political offerings that were totally out of touch.

After five years of tough decision-making, he was seen as having lost his way — and, as he said himself, his mojo.

But he’s still there — he lost heavily this year, but it’s still too soon to count out Enda Kenny.

Year’s biggest loser 4:

There were many big losers in 2016, including us, but we shall overcome

The people of Syria.

Caught in a terrible, cruel civil war, millions of innocent people have been trapped between combatants who have, on either side, no interest in their welfare.

There are no good guys in this war, just a crazed conflict about power in which thousands of innocents have been killed, maimed, and made homeless.

As the year turns, there is no sign of the conflict ending, even if the eventual evacuation of Aleppo might save some lives.

And refugees from Syria seem condemned to be rejected everywhere, with none of us willing to take families in the numbers necessary.

Year’s biggest loser 5:

There were many big losers in 2016, including us, but we shall overcome

The most powerful country in the world has elected a leader who has no interest in the future of the environment.

He seems determined to un-learn the lessons of the last economic crash, and roll back the modest regulatory measures put in place then.

Because of the promises he has made he will be powerless in the face of the most effective gun lobby in the world.

Donald Trump might have won a stupendous victory this year, against all the odds, but I have a deep conviction that before next year is out he will be well on his way to becoming a national joke.

Year’s biggest winner:

All the negative emotions triumphed this year.

It was fear and ignorance that decided the result in Brexit, exemplified by the disgusting (and fake) poster unveiled by Nigel Farrage that showed hordes of angry young men apparently streaming over a border. It was hate that drove trucks through crowds of innocent people in Nice and Berlin.

It was prejudice at its heart that elected Donald Trump, a man who stood for misogyny, for intolerance, and bigotry, and who spread fear of the unknown everywhere he went.

There has never been a year in my memory when so many uncharacteristically hostile attitudes came to the fore in world politics, or had so much influence on the outcome of democratic contests.

Throughout the world, when the had a chance to vote, people voted against rather than for. When they couldn’t vote, they killed.

Terrorism has been on the rise for several years now, and it has never seemed so implacable, so full of hate, so unreasoning, as it does right now.

The biggest damage it’s doing, of course, is in the erosion of democratic values in so many staunchly democratic countries.

At the end of 2015 in Ireland, people voted in their thousands to affirm a measure of equality in the same sex marriage referendum, and did so joyously.

One year later, how little joy seems to be left in the world.

Because hate, ignorance and prejudice have been to the fore in some many ways this year, the biggest loser of all, maybe, has been the entire world.

And yet, and yet.

That’s not us.

We have always found ways to transcend, to overcome the gloomiest moments, to find rays of sunshine among the clouds.

We’ll do it again in 2017.

No matter what problems we face, there is goodness and resilience and imagination out there. And it will come through again.

So Happy New Year everyone.

I hope you and your families find 2017 a time of opportunity and fulfilment, and that you find ways — that we all find ways — to look out for each other.

In the end, that’s all that matters.


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