Saturday 1 October 2016

How it turned out: 2015 revisited

Published 14/12/2015 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar sports 'rugby dad-chic'. Photo: El keegan
Leo Varadkar sports 'rugby dad-chic'. Photo: El keegan
Ireland lost boxing coach Billy Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Former Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro had a run-in with Jose Mourinho. Photo: Mike Egerton/PaWire
Jeremy Clarkson. Photo: Matt Crossick PA wire
FAI chief John Delaney. Photo: David Maher, Sportsfile
Irish fans were left disappointed when Paul O'Connell and the Irish team failed to make the semi-finals. Photo: Getty
In February, Ray D'Arcy complained about the price of soup in the RTE canteen. Photo: Brian McEvoy.
Donald Trump is running for US President. Photo: Getty
Yanis Varoufakis. Photo: Getty
Roy Keane. Photo: David Maher Sportsfile
Kate Bush.

From the opening of UTV Ireland to the closing of the Web Summit, from the overpriced soup in the RTE canteen to Donald Trump running for US President, from the demolition of the old U2 studios to the discovery of a Greek sex god, we revisit 2015, the year in which Ireland beat Germany and became the LGBT capital of the world

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JANUARY

Time was when the opening night of a new TV station in Ireland would mean a gala occasion, with men in tuxedos and dancing girls, and good wishes from Sammy Davis Jr or Liberace to their friends in the Emerald Isle.

In these less excitable times, we had UTV Ireland opening with a clock counting down and some lovely pictures of Ireland, its mountains and rivers and streams - or revenue streams, as they are now known - then a brief corporate introduction, and straight into Emmerdale. There were no greetings from the showbiz giants of Vegas but there were a few words from Olly Murs. And, best of all, there was an interview by Pat Kenny with a 99-year-old woman who turned out to be Nidge's granny.

There was much more excitement when Leo Varadkar announced to Miriam O'Callaghan that he is gay, with almost everyone wishing Leo well in his new life as an 'out' gay man, thus helping to solve the long-running mystery of why Leo always looked, like, so different when he wasn't wearing a suit - he wasn't different, he was just gay.

Indeed, the sexuality of Leo has transcended all other issues in his political career, such as that the health service is as wrecked as ever, but the really important thing is that the minister is gay. The A&E departments may be an omnishambles, but that should not distract us in any way from the overriding importance of the fact that the minister is gay.

Meanwhile, the British were taking off in a different direction, with the Sun discontinuing its grand old tradition of topless women on Page Three, a move which was welcomed by all right-thinking people, causing the Sun to wonder if it had made a terrible mistake.

And Roy Keane was involved in an alleged road-rage incident - he was eventually cleared - during which passengers in another car claimed that they were "shaken and terrified" when they recognised him and allegedly told him to "smile".

We've all been there . . .

FEBRUARY

Ray D'Arcy started his new RTE radio show, and straight away he made his mark by drawing attention to an appalling national scandal - the fact that a bowl of soup in the RTE canteen costs €1 and two cents.

It was the two cents that was bugging Ray, and understandably so - if you paid for your RTE soup with a €2 coin you could be landed with a fistful of pesky little cents in change, until the happy day that the price was rounded down to just €1, in line with the plan to take the one cent and two cent coins out of circulation.

But some listeners were hearing another, far greater scandal buried within this one - the fact that RTE's millionaire presenters and Montrose's standing army of lavishly remunerated executives are daily supping bowls of soup that are so cheap, they seem to be priced at the subsidised rate that is normally to be found in a shelter for homeless people.

Indeed, Brother Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre, who received the Freedom of Dublin in a ceremony that also honoured John Giles, must have been listening in amazement, wondering if the poor people who come to him for a hot meal mightn't be better off dining in the RTE canteen from now on.

Astonishing, too, that Fergus Finlay, seemingly such a sensible fellow, should have attached his name to the Stop Out of Control Drinking Campaign, sponsored by Diageo. Broadly speaking, if you are embarking on a campaign to change the drinking culture of a nation, you should be open to all sorts of ideas from a variety of sources, but there is probably just one thing that you should rule out completely from the start, and that is sponsorship by the drinks industry.

At such times, we look enviously at people such as David Strahan, the chief executive of the Northern Ireland public transport company Translink, who quit his €220,000-a-year job to "preach the gospel" - taking a similar route to the BBC NI political correspondent Martina Purdy, who left public life and entered a convent.

MARCH

From the North, too, comes the famous humour of the DUP, seen to telling effect in MLA Gregory Campbell's speech the previous November, which began, "Curry my yogurt, a can coca coalyer", praised by many Gaelgeoiri as a refreshing satire on Sinn Fein's cynical use of the language.

Or not, as the case may be. Indeed, Campbell was barred on that occasion from speaking for two days for being "blatantly disrespectful", and in March, when he was observed yawning as Sinn Feiners spoke in Irish, he was denied speaking rights for a further two days.

But then, who knows what's funny anymore? Up on Gorse Hill in Killiney, an outfit called the New Land League, a name usually associated with the most extreme sufferings of the 19th-Century peasantry, was protecting the great mansion of the ex-zillionaire Brian O'Donnell.

And at Cheltenham, an entire nation became poor in about two seconds when Annie Power, on which so many accumulators were depending, lunged inexplicably at the last fence and fell when victory had seemed certain.

Though the Irish would win 13 races at the festival - which is not unrelated to the fact that we were almost the only country represented there - this one catastrophe cost punters about €70m, according to the bookies.

So that's obviously a lie, but still . . . it certainly wasn't nice.

There was much unpleasantness too in the story of the fracas caused by Jeremy Clarkson when he attacked Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, reportedly characterising him as "a lazy Irish cunt" - Clarkson had wanted a steak, and no steak could be found.

So Tymon "was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip", according to a BBC inquiry, during an "unprovoked physical and verbal attack", with the verbal aspect of it sustained over a longer period.

Clarkson was sacked, though, of course, it would have been equally fitting if he had been sacked a long time ago just for being "a lazy Irish cunt" himself, though he might argue that he is neither lazy nor Irish.

Anyway, it's a terrible thing to call any man, though if we're on the subject of bad names, we must give prominence to Renua, the political party which seemed to have as its main aspiration the desire to sound like a hair-restoration clinic.

Renua - the name sent out the powerful message: "Let us embrace the culture of vacuous corporate bullshit which has consumed most of the best energies of the human race. And let us do it now."

APRIL

But you had to laugh.

Reading an article about the demolition of the old Windmill Lane Studios, you eventually got to the part where the property-investment company had stated that it would "take into account" the site's history. Then you looked at the picture which illustrated the article, a picture of a building completely destroyed, and you had to laugh. If this is what "taking into account" looks like, an enormous heap of rubble on the ancient site of the recording of The Joshua Tree, you probably wouldn't want to see what happens when they just blast away indiscriminately.

But it turned out they had indeed saved a little bit of Ireland's priceless rock'n'roll heritage - the famous Windmill Wall was still there, covered in the graffiti of the multitudes of visitors, though there was talk of moving it to some other place of commemoration.

Meanwhile, the buildings in which U2 and Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones and Kate Bush and UB40 and Hot Chocolate too laid down tracks, will be transformed into "residential, retail and office units", no doubt with words like Renua on the nameplates.

And if this didn't make you weep for the way that capitalism is going, there was the news that Cadbury had taken two fingers out of its packets of Chocolate Fingers. Where once the Quaker capitalists of Cadbury would be building model villages for their employees and doing all sort of good works to even things up a bit, now, the executives who have replaced them, have declared their grand vision - to make their product slightly worse, slightly smaller, slightly meaner all the time; a practice known as "shrinkflation".

And yet, from China, there was a message of hope. President Xi Jinping has clamped down on golf, "to prevent unclean behaviour or illegal conduct". Describing it as yet another temptation which has led Communist Party officials astray, the wise Jinping has imposed a prohibition on betting on golf, on playing with people connected to one's job, on travelling on golf-related junkets. "Like fine liquor and tobacco, fancy cars and mansions, golf is a PR tool that businessmen use to hook officials. The golf course is gradually changing into a muddy field where they trade money for power," he reasoned.

How did they get it so right?

MAY

While Ireland was becoming the toast of the modern world with a big Yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum, in Britain they elected the Conservatives again.

The heavily defeated Labour Party would then go on to lose its own leadership contest - something that seemed an impossible feat, until it started to become clear that Jeremy Corbyn could actually win. And sure enough he did, after a summer of deep surrealism in which many of the leading figures in Labour argued fiercely against the idea of someone with left-wing views leading the party.

For Irish observers, there was the issue of Corbyn's friendly encounters with Gerry Adams and other leading republicans stretching back into antiquity.

To which they might respond that, at that time, David Cameron would have been partaking of upper-class japes such as placing his penis into the mouth of a dead pig, which, to them, would seem a more embarrassing lapse of judgment.

In this, of course, as in all things, they would be wrong, but that never stopped them before.

Sepp Blatter, another total stranger to the concept of embarrassment, was stepping down, or stepping aside, or stepping in any direction he could think of, as long as he could later deny it, as a sprawling international investigation into Fifa, led by the US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, kicked off.

"This is good news for world football, and not before time," said FAI majordomo John Delaney, who then told Ray D'Arcy about the great day that Blatter had given a cool US$5m to Irish football to make up for the Thierry Henry debacle, and for any offence he may have caused when he made "a skit" of us.

But maybe that US$5m wasn't so cool after all - the money would help pay for the Aviva Stadium, but apparently it would be paid back if Ireland qualified for the 2014 World Cup.

Which we didn't. Which seemed to most of us like very bad news at the time, only to now discover that, in a certain sense, it was also very good news.

As to whether it was good news or bad news for John Delaney's own position in the firmament of world sport, nobody could tell anymore.

JUNE

It was time for Greece to come back into the frame again, looking for a new deal. Its leaders, Alexis Tsipras and the sex god Yanis Varoufakis, had this idea that the doctrine of austerity has led to all kinds of catastrophe, and not just for Greece, so maybe it mightn't be the best plan to throw another load of it onto poor Stavros as if it's all been working really well.

For this, they were mocked and denigrated, not least by our own Government, the "model prisoners" of austerity, as the sex god later called them, with Enda Kenny advising Greece to do what Ireland in its wisdom had done in similar circumstances - "we did not increase income tax, we did not increase Vat, we did not increase PRSI," he explained, cleverly omitting any mention of the fact that Ireland had indeed done all of these things.

It was getting ugly here too, with Clerys closing suddenly on a Friday evening after 162 years trading, leaving 130 staff out of work, and those employed by 50 concession outlets in a very bad place too.

It would draw a response from Minister Alex White, who said with a heavy heart that nobody should imagine that a law can be brought in next week to "stop capitalism operating the way it does".

Then again, some of us had been under the impression that the sole purpose of this thing called the Labour movement was precisely "to stop capitalism operating the way it does". It's there on page one, line one, of the constitution of the Labour Party - "The reason for our existence, is to stop capitalism operating the way it does".

But since Alex White has declared that no one should imagine that this is feasible anymore, we must ask ourselves: why are you here, Alex? What is the point of you?

The rich guys were having no such doubts, with Donald Trump announcing that he would be running for US President, raising a future vision of Trump in the White House and Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, and all other human life presumably drawing to a close.

Though Trump promised to make America rich, just as he had made himself rich, with a fortune estimated at US$4bn, an analyst explained that "if Trump had just put his father's money in a mutual fund that tracked the S&P 500 and spent his career finger-painting, he'd have US$8bn".

JULY

We were still in total shock weeks after a BBC documentary investigated the famed athletics coach Alberto Salazar in relation to doping, and was answered by a 12,000-word rebuttal from the man who trained the much-loved Mo Farah - so we needed the tonic of the Tour de France, in which Chris Froome of the Sky team was proving that you can ride a bike just as fast as Lance Armstrong ever did, but that you can do it through smarter training techniques, which bring "marginal gains" - ah, if only Lance had known about the marginal gains, he'd be a much happier man today.

Indeed, as Lance surveys a world of sport in which rugby seems to have developed a bit of a drugs culture, and football itself is being viewed suspiciously, he must wonder how it all got pinned on poor Lance Armstrong.

Lyin' and cheatin' wasn't exactly invented by the man from Texas in the yellow jersey with a needle stuck in his ass, a fact emphasised by the Ashley Madison hacking disaster, which revealed that about 115,000 Irish people were using the website in order to conduct their affairs, as it were. In this act of "cyber terrorism", we learned that Ireland's online adulterers came in an impressive 10th out of 45 countries, and this in a land where a lot of people still can't get reliable broadband.

Nor did it seem entirely right that Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee's 'prequel' to the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, was selling a million copies in its first week when the author, who is now extremely old, had for several decades steadfastly refrained from putting it out there.

Certainly some of us were keeping our hands in our pockets in anticipation of a true literary sensation, with the announcement by George Hook of his forthcoming venture into erotic fiction.

For the legendary Irish-born racing commentator Peter O'Sullevan, the great struggle against the darkness ended with his death at 97, and a tribute by John McCririck who declared that O'Sullevan "never took under the odds" - by which he meant that the great man wouldn't put his money down unless he got the best possible price. "He never took under the odds - what better epitaph could you have than that?" McCririck asked rhetorically.

In this year of the Yeats centenary, some might argue that "Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by" is a better epitaph.

But they would be wrong.

AUGUST

When O'Sullevan got to heaven, no doubt he discovered that there are people down here who have more money than God - with the merger of Paddy Power and Betfair, there is now a global superpower in the black art of online gambling.

And according to one report, "analysts are betting on more mega-mergers". So the 'analysts' were betting on what the betting corporations will do next. And you were wondering why from time to time there's a little turbulence on the Dow, the FTSE and the Dax?

Donald Trump was still getting through his father's money on the campaign trail, claiming that Megyn Kelly of Fox News, who had asked him a hard question, "had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of wherever". Later, he would explain that he "cherishes" women, that "they are amazing executives, they are killers, they are phenomenal".

Unfortunately, they can get quite difficult if they are roared at in public by their boss and later demoted, when in fact they are doing their job to the highest professional standard - such was the situation created by Jose Mourinho when he berated the Chelsea team doctor Eva Carneiro for "not understanding the game".

But in fact she did understand the game as it is meant to be played, coming onto the pitch when called by the referee, to treat the injured Eden Hazard.

What she didn't understand was that Mourinho would go doolally because the game was nearly over, and due to her intervention, the last action would have to take place without the otherwise excellent Hazard on the pitch.

Perhaps she should have allowed for the possibility that Hazard was pretending to be injured? Or that he was actually injured, but should just be left there in case he got better really quickly?

Who knows what Mourinho was thinking? No doubt any women watching would have said it's the old story - "They expect us to be frigging mindreaders too".

And now we were starting to hear that Ireland had found a way of losing its best ever boxing coach, Billy Walsh. Not only had Walsh been massively successful, he was perhaps the only prominent person in public life in this country who had no eejitry in him.

And when you consider all the opportunities he would have had in that regard, in terms of flag-waving and kissing the ground at the airport and so forth, it seems that we have lost a truly outstanding man.

SEPTEMBER

But we have gained Jonathan Rachel Clynch, the RTE News reporter who has been known for many years simply as Jonathan Clynch, but who told colleagues that he intends to dress as a woman and to take on the additional name of Rachel.

There was a happy ending of sorts, too, for Elton John, who had been phoned by a couple of pranksters pretending to be Vladimir Putin, after which Elton declared that he was looking forward to meeting Putin "face to face, to discuss LGBT equality in Russia".

On learning of the ruse, the real Putin, who is always game for a laugh, rang Elton and asked him to forgive those telephone guys because "they're harmless", adding with a slightly ominous note, "but that, of course, doesn't excuse them".

Our thoughts are with them all at this difficult time.

OCTOBER

Here in the LGBT capital of the world, we noted with approval that the referee of the Rugby World Cup final, Nigel Owens, is gay. But we could no nothing for our guys on the park, who kind of screwed up by failing once more to reach the semi-final of this thing.

Not that anyone would dwell on this for very long, except perhaps RTE Sport, which was losing the rugby to TV3, in order to maintain essential public services such as an Nuacht.

But everywhere the old ways were dying - Bord na Mona announced that the industrial-scale exploitation of the peat bogs will be finished in 15 years, which means the end of peat briquettes, to be replaced by biomass briquettes, whatever they are. And if that seemed unimaginable, we were still trying to digest the news from Germany that Volkswagen had managed to turn the most reassuring brand in history into something that reinforces all our fears about executive delinquency.

And yet even that seemed like a small thing when you placed it beside the spectacle of the Republic of Ireland beating Germany 1-0 at football.

Still, it was probably a tad harsh when eventually we qualified for the Euros, for someone to tweet that the football men had delivered, unlike the "rugby cowards".

NOVEMBER

So the Web Summit left Dublin for its new home in Lisbon just a few days before the Portuguese elected a left-wing government. And since a left-wing government will, presumably, have a very different attitude to a lot of things than the right-wing government which negotiated the Summit, we can only hope that all this ends well.

It was just odd that with all these visionaries in the hall, few had apparently foreseen that Paulo Portas, the deputy prime minister quipping good-naturedly on the main stage, would very soon be political toast.

Indeed, for all we know, by the time the Web Summit trolls into Portugal, the leftists will be gone too, and they'll be living under some kind of a military dictatorship - the sort of fellows who won't be reading your emails and noting any constructive criticisms contained therein.

Who can know what controversies may arise?

There was Fiach Mac Conghail, the much-admired artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, putting together his Waking The Nation programme and probably thinking he'd done quite a decent job as usual, when out of the void came a hurricane - it seemed suddenly to occur to people that the Abbey has staged so few plays by women, it might as well have staged none at all.

For about 100 years nobody had complained much, so we can imagine Fiach's surprise when he found himself on the wrong side of history on this one.

And seeing how things can turn, Enda Kenny is probably still wondering what madness got into him, that he failed to call the election in November when everyone was still drunk on the football. Or just drunk.

DECEMBER

That election, along with the 1916 centenary celebrations, and a season of Official Ireland talking about football, now stretches ahead of us.

You may want to embrace these things. Or you may prefer to just roll back to the start of 2015, and do all that again. At least you know how it all worked out.

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