Thursday 18 December 2014

Nicola Anderson: A year marked by tragedy, gang deaths and cutbacks

Published 26/12/2012 | 05:00

IT stood out as the most devastating picture of the year. Through this simple portrait of a radiant young woman with her luminous eyes and impish smile, clad in the exotic and silken finery of her native India, two decades of Irish government inaction were revealed to the world.

We learned of the terrible death of Savita Hallappanavar (31) through the searingly painful accounts of her husband, Praveen. She had died as a result of a septic miscarriage, having begged doctors to carry out an abortion once it was known that the 17-week-old foetus she was carrying was non-viable.

Praveen's revelations shattered the uneasy position of procrastination in which the State had taken refuge over the past 20 years and caused worldwide condemnation, shaming the Government into action at last. Legislative measures will be brought forth in the new year.

Savita's death provided a reminder – if one was needed – that the boundaries of Irish society had swelled far beyond the old limits. Savita was one of the 'New Irish'. She had loved the home she and her husband had carved out for themselves in Galway and they had intended to stay forever, to raise a family and to claim Irish citizenship.

At the very start of the year, the same realisation of how much the face of our society had changed and how the lives of the New Irish were now entwined with the wider community struck home with the sinking of the fishing vessel, the Tit Bon Homme, off the coast of Cork on January 15, with the loss of five lives.

Cultural differences were forgotten as the Egyptian community joined locals on the quayside at Glandore Harbour to raise their voices in fervent prayer as they awaited the recovery of the bodies over the agonising course of the next month.

The search saw communities in both Union Hall and Glandore rally together to support the search. The skipper, Michael, and his fellow crewmen, Kevin Kershaw, Attia Shaban, Wael Mohammed and Saied Ali Eldin, all died in the tragedy. Mohammed Add Elgwad was the only survivor.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar commended the Irish Coast Guard, the numerous other agencies and the local communities of west Cork and Bunmahon, Co Waterford, where the skipper hailed from, for their assistance in the search.

The following month, a more flamboyant politician, Mick Wallace, came out in stout defiance of the household charge. By June, it emerged that Mick had far more serious tax concerns of his own, with revelations that he had made a €2.1m settlement with the Revenue Commissioners for under-payment of VAT.

On June 8, we found out that Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett had requested the Oireachtas Committee on Members Interests to make inquiries into Wallace's financial affairs.

However, the committee decided in July that it did not have the power to carry out these investigations and referred the matter back to the Dail.

Finances of a different nature were the topic again that month, when banker Sean Fitzpatrick finally appeared at the Dublin District Court on charges relating to the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank.

Cheek by jowl with petty criminals and defendants suffering from addiction, Fitzpatrick was charged with 16 offences by gardai attached to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement relating to his alleged role in advising on and lending millions to a golden circle of investors to falsely inflate Anglo's share price.

Notably, the justice system was far quicker to move against Sean Quinn and his son, Sean Quinn Jnr, than it was against the banks themselves.

Sean Jnr was jailed in July – and visits by his glamorous wife Karen Woods to Mountjoy prompted a media frenzy. The blonde from Castleknock, Dublin became a celebrity in her own right – leaving her reportedly mystified.

The Quinns were remaining defiant – until October when the previously granite-faced Sean Snr dissolved into tears at a rally by supporters. By November, he was in jail.

In July, attention focused on a tiny paradise island thousands of miles away when two local men in Mauritius stood trial for murdering Michaela McAreavey.

Jurors took only two hours to reach a unanimous verdict of not guilty on Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea. As the two acquitted men walked out of the court, throngs of people cheered 'justice, justice' in Creole as policemen hurried the men through the chaotic scenes and the defence lawyers were carried aloft.

Defence lawyers had said that Treebhoowoon was tortured into confessing to a murder he did not commit by a police force in a hurry to find someone to blame.

With the acquittal came fears that nobody would now be charged relating to Michaela's death.

The terrible death of another Irish woman far from home came in autumn.

On September 21, Drogheda woman Jill Meagher (29) headed to a pub in Melbourne for Friday post-work drinks.

She left the bar at 1.30am, declining a friend's offer to escort her on the 10-minute walk home.

Half an hour later, her husband Tom woke up and wondered why his wife hadn't arrived.Police traced CCTV footage to show a vulnerable Jill teetering on high heels as a sinister figure skulked behind her.

Two days later, Jill's body was found in a shallow grave more than 50km away; a 41-year-old stranger was arrested and charged with rape and murder. He is now in custody and awaiting his next court appearance in Australia in the new year.

Jill's death met with a public outpouring of grief, both here and in Australia.

"We will never forget this beautiful young woman," Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote in a letter to residents of Drogheda.

Revelations that convicted rapist and suspected serial killer Larry Murphy was spotted at large on the streets of Amsterdam at the end of November, showed once again the risk of predators to women.Dutch police admitted that though gardai had alerted them to the fact Murphy was moving to the city, officers were not aware of his address in Amsterdam.

Crime of a gangland nature took centre stage when Real IRA leader Alan Ryan was gunned down in September. In a sinister reminder of the past, men in balaclavas fired a volley of shots over his coffin.

In a chilling show of force against the authority of the State, roadblocks were set up in the area and innocent motorists were stopped and questioned by the Republican rabble.

There was a public outcry over the spectacle of the paramilitary-style funeral, which Justice Minister Alan Shatter described as "reprehensible and absolutely unacceptable".

He said the terrorists had taken us "back to the dark days of the Troubles".

Privately, the minister was said to have been furious that the Republican thugs had been able to fire their shots and take over part of the city.

BUt in a subsequent interview on 'Liveline', Ryan's friend and fellow dissident republican, Paul Stewart – who was with Ryan when he was gunned down – chillingly declared: "I'm glad the gardai were wise enough to back off and not provoke anything. It would have ended badly for them."

The country seemed to be dangerously slipping further back into a slump. Even news that the Taoiseach had made the cover of 'Time Magazine's' October edition, with the title "Celtic Comeback" failed to raise our spirits. He was the first Irish leader since Lemass to merit this distinction.

Mr Kenny was asked by the magazine why there had been no large-scale demonstrations in Ireland against cutbacks as there had been in other European countries.

"People understand that you have to do difficult things to sort out our own public finances," he said.

But by the December Budget, these "difficult things" seemed to have gone beyond the realms of decency.

Cameras captured a gentle kiss from carer Sean Barrett for wife Niamh at a carers' protest outside the Dail in the wake of the harsh Budget, which had stripped vital supports from the most vulnerable. The annual payment was cut dramatically from €1,700 to €1,375.

Tomorrow: we look back at the top sports and entertainment stories of 2012

Irish Independent

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