Monday 27 March 2017

Marriage poll a rare light in year of tragedy and terror

It was the ‘Year of the Rainbow’ – but 2015 brought terror attacks and a gripping murder trial

Panti Bliss celebrates with marriage equality supporters at Dublin Castle. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Panti Bliss celebrates with marriage equality supporters at Dublin Castle. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Graham Dwyer was convicted after a 45-day murder trial
A mourner attends a vigil for the six Irish victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in the US
A Greek policeman lifts the body of migrant Aylan Kurdi (3), who drowned trying to reach the island of Kos
Journalists enter the grounds of the Gorse Hill home of solicitor Brian O’Donnell in Killiney. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
The scene of the Carrickmines fire tragedy in which 10 Travellers died. Picture By David Conachy
the funeral cortege of Garda Tony Golden, who was shot dead on duty in Co Louth. Pic:Mark Condren

Nicola AndersonNicola Anderson

It will go down in the annals as the Year of the Rainbow - when we voted with our feet to sweep away any suggestion of a love that "dare not speak its name" - and along with it the old dark culture of repression.

Ireland's ringing endorsement of marriage equality was always going to be a historic event. But coming as it did amid a global backdrop of rising fear, oppression, war and terror, it also seemed nothing short of miraculous.

The year began in a frightening vein when 12 people were killed on January 7 in a terrorist attack in Paris at the offices of 'Charlie Hebdo' - a satirical weekly magazine known for publishing cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad, along with all other religions.

The paper's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, several cartoonists, and two police officers lost their lives in the terrifying attack. An al-Qaeda group based in Yemen claimed responsibility, saying they acted in retaliation for the magazine's caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

It was the worst terrorist attack in France since World War II, as well as a blow to freedom of speech. But there was far worse to come for the Republic of liberty, equality and fraternity later in the year.

But back home, the campaign for tolerance and love received a major shot in the arm on January 18 when Health Minister Leo Varadkar publicly came out, saying: "I am a gay man. It's not a secret."

That same month, the most shocking murder trial in the history of the State opened at the Central Criminal Court, when Graham Dwyer stood accused of the brutal slaying of Elaine O'Hara.

It was only the chance discovery of her keys in a Wicklow reservoir that put the chain of events in place that would lead gardaí to the 'respectable' married architect in the salubrious enclave of Foxrock in south county Dublin.

Over the course of 45 days, the nation was sickened by the harrowing evidence of how Dwyer would stab the vulnerable Dublin woman during sex, threatening her that he would ultimately kill her.

On March 27, Dwyer was found guilty by the jury.

Meanwhile the nation was also gripped by the ongoing legal saga of Gorse Hill as solicitor Brian O'Donnell, his wife Mary Patricia and their children fought in court for the Killiney hilltop mansion.

Broadcaster Vincent Browne, strolling uninvited through the gates in an impromptu 'Through the Keyhole'-style report, added a much-needed dash of comic relief to the narrative.

The fate of Gorse Hill remains the subject of a legal action.

March was an absorbing month - with the birth of a new political party, Renua, launched by Lucinda Creighton, who promised to "govern in the sunshine", adding "we should trust Irish citizens with the truth."

The sale of Aer Lingus saw much debate, as Richard Branson and even Donald Trump weighed in - with the US presidential hopeful advising the Taoiseach not to sell the State's shareholding in the airline as it would damage inward investment.

Such advice fell on deaf ears, and the sale of the national carrier to IAG was "a sad day", according to Richard Branson.

In a year when the homelessness crisis became worse than anything charity workers had ever seen before - with 1,400 children in emergency accommodation in Dublin alone - the inequalities in our society were painfully highlighted. Yet all this happened as the economy regained losses made in the recession, achieving growth of 7pc of GDP.

In April came the awful news that nurse Karen Buckley had disappeared in Glasgow. Her body was found four days later, on April 16, on a farm on the outskirts of the city. The horrific details of her brutal murder were subsequently revealed and police quickly zoned in on Alexander Pacteau. He was convicted of murder and will spend at least 23 years behind bars.

The first Irish Water bills hit the doormats in April, but by July it became apparent that less than half the people had paid.

And Ervia boss Michael McNicholas hinted at the MacGill Summer School that the utility might not be around after the next General Election.

More than ever, then, did we need the feel-good factor of the Marriage Equality Referendum on May 22, as Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote - and a mood of pride and optimism swept the country with the resounding 'yes' result.

"Our people have truly answered Ireland's call. . . we have made history," Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced.

It took until November 17 to see the first same-sex wedding, as barrister Cormac Gollogly (35) from Terenure in Dublin and banker Richard Dowling (35) from Athlone, Co Westmeath, tied the knot at 8.40am that day.

More history was made in May with the first official State visit by British royals Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who stopped off at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, where Charles's great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed in an IRA bomb 36 years before. It was an important footnote to the Peace Process.

In the early hours of June 16, the country was plunged into grief with the unspeakable news that six young Irish students on a J1 visa had been killed in a horrifying accident when a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California. Eight other students were seriously injured.

In July, unprecedented wild weather on Reek Sunday saw some pilgrims ignore official advice not to climb Croke Patrick - and some children suffering with hypothermia had to be rescued.

The introduction of the Eircode postcode system, also in July, passed off as a non-event when it came to light that some of the postcodes were not recognised by the system. They have been largely ignored ever since.

But in the summer, the focus was largely on Europe - as hundreds of thousands of migrants from war-torn Syria, as well as countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and northern Africa flooded our frontiers, desperately making their way by foot and by boat to escape to a better life.

Compassion for the migrants was coupled with alarm at how easily Europe's borders were being ignored, and tensions inevitably mounted. In September, the Government announced that Ireland would take in 4,000 refugees. But by December, just 100 people had been resettled here.

The nation was forced into painful introspection about how we treat those on the margins of society with the deaths of 10 Travellers in a fire at a halting site in Carrickmines, Co Dublin on October 9.

Five of those who died were under the age of 10, and one was a six-month-old baby.

Even in the midst of grief, a plan to rehouse those left behind near Rockville Drive, off Glenamuck Road, was met with opposition from some quarters.

The council eventually bowed and rehoused the families in a temporary housing site - where they still remain.

Two days later, on October 11, the nation was sickened and numbed with disbelief after Garda Tony Golden was shot dead while on a domestic violence call-out in Omeath, Co Louth. The 36-year-old father-of-three was shot by dissident republican Adrian Crevan Mackin. Mackin's partner, Siobhan Phillips, was also seriously wounded before Mackin turned the gun on himself.

The marriage referendum gave us hope for the future - but 2015 also showed us how much progress we still have to make.

Irish Independent

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