Tuesday 16 July 2019

From Donald Trump to Conor McGregor...The 12 most talked about stories of 2017


Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor
Lighter side of politics: Varadkar gives it socks during a visit by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who is known for his quirky choices underfoot. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Meteorologist Joanna Donnelly.
Catherine Corless
Funeral: The coffin of Martin McGuinness. Photo: Gerry Mooney
In the spotlight: Frances Fitzgerald arrives at Finnstown Castle Hotel in Dublin, to attend the Fine Gael Dublin West Selection Convention after resigning as Tánaiste to avoid a snap election over her handling of a whistleblower scandal. Photo: Press Association
Frustrated: Rhona Mahony, master of Holles Street. Photo: gareth Chaney
Campaign: Anthony Flynn, left, director of Inner City Helping Homeless, and artist Will Leger, in a 12ft x 12ft 'room' set up on South King Street by the #mynameis group -12 x 12 is the average size of room given to families by the council. Photo: Damien Eagers
Michael Colgan.
Hope: Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Morris MacMatzen/Getty
Harvey Weinstein.
Al Porter
Galaxy quest: Trump at a signing ceremony for the Space Policy Directive in the White House, Washington. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Cold front: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May at the front door of 10 Downing Street in London. Photo: Toby Melville

Kim Bielenberg and John Meagher

For our round-up of the biggest news of the year, we are highlighting the people who were at the centre of the most talked-about stories of 2017, in politics and beyond.

America blessed by Trump's failings

1 Donald Trump US President

Galaxy quest: Trump at a signing ceremony for the Space Policy Directive in the White House, Washington. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Those who viewed with trepidation the presidency of Donald Trump can at least console themselves at the way in which his term is playing out.

He may be the most erratic US president of recent memory, but at least he has not started a war in his first year in office.

And even though he sent a rude tweet to a random woman called Theresa May Scrivenor, when he meant to send it to Theresa May, he has not caused a nuclear explosion by pressing the wrong button by mistake.

In a summary of his presidency, one commentator described him as "combative, unpredictable, uneducated in the substance of policy and consumed with himself".

One of the consolations of his presidency is that he has proved too inept to implement his policies, because he antagonises the Republican allies who can push them through, including members of Congress.

Efforts to scrap Obamacare, build a wall across the border with Mexico, and introduce draconian curbs on immigration all stalled in his early months.

His ability to alienate his fellow Republicans could prove his ruination if he faces impeachment, because, ultimately, they have the power to save him.

His undoing could come from the investigations currently being conducted into alleged links between Russia and his business and political campaign. He described these probes as the "single greatest witch-hunt of a politician in American history".

The felony charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller against his former campaign director Paul Manafort and the guilty plea by his former national security advisor Michael Flynn to a charge of lying to the FBI must have given the president cause to worry.

For his opponents, both Democrat and Republican, the response to the Trump presidency is one of damage limitation.

Congress, the courts, civil servants and some of his cabinet colleagues have managed to curb some of his excesses.

As the liberal think-tank the Brookings Institution put it, "Trump may talk like a dictator but the Constitution is working just as it should to prevent him from behaving like one." -KB

Leo takes charge and weathers a political storm

2 Leo Varadkar


Lighter side of politics: Varadkar gives it socks during a visit by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who is known for his quirky choices underfoot. Photo: Gerry Mooney

On June 14, Leo Varadkar took office as Ireland's 14th Taoiseach after Enda Kenny's six years in charge.

There is no doubt that he has star quality. As soon as he was elected, his fame reverberated around the world, and he was featured on the front of Time magazine.

Abroad, his image is one of a youthful, forward-looking, liberal leader who belies all the Irish stereotypes.

But at times, the star quality seemed to go to his head, and he forgot that the post requires a certain gravitas.

After meeting Theresa May in No 10 Downing Street soon after he took office, he told a press conference: "It's my first time in this building so there's a little thrill in it as well... I was reminded of that famous scene in Love Actually where Hugh Grant does his dance down the stairs."

It was hard to imagine Sean Lemass saying something similar.

Leo inherited some apparently intractable problems from his predecessor, including the housing crisis and homelessness.

After his first half year, there was little sign that his Government was making any headway on the housing crisis. Until late November, he managed to keep the Government on a reasonably steady course, no small feat in a minority government that relies on the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil, and an oddball ensemble of independents.

But then the wheels almost came off in the midst of a controversy over the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and the way she had responded to emails relating to Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe circulating around the Department of Justice in 2015.

With Fianna Fáil threatening to pull the plug on the Government, Varadkar allowed the controversy fester on for too long before the Tánaiste finally quit.

At times it has seemed like a rollercoaster ride for Leo. Just a few days after his government teetered on the brink of an election, he was able to bask in the successful outcome of the first phase of Brexit negotiations. Although the final deal remains uncertain, it now seems more likely that Ireland will continue to have an open border. -KB

McGuinness's death leaves a power vacuum

3 Martin McGuinness

Deceased Sinn Féin Leader

Funeral: The coffin of Martin McGuinness. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Martin McGuinness, the most influential figure in the Republican movement alongside Gerry Adams, died in March at the age of 66.

The veteran Sinn Féin politician had only recently stepped down as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland over the "cash for ash" scandal. McGuinness was a paradoxical figure in Irish republicanism. He had been an unashamed gunman and chief of staff of the IRA, responsible for hundreds deaths.

But he later emerged as a peacemaker and more than Adams or other republican leaders he was capable of building a rapport with unionists, including Ian Paisley.

Here was a man who was a senior figure in the IRA when its operatives killed Queen Elizabeth's cousin, Louis Mountbatten. And yet he ended up shaking the queen's hand, and toasting her at Windsor Castle while wearing a white tie and tails.

His funeral took place in his native Derry and attracted huge crowds. The congregation included former US president Bill Clinton, former First Minister Peter Robinson and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as well as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Micheal D Higgins. Clinton called on the North's political leaders to continue McGuinness's work in the peace process. His passing left a vacuum in Northern politics. No leader, either from the nationalist or unionist side, has stepped forward to play a conciliatory role and bring the communities together.

Although he had precipitated a Northern Assembly election by resigning, one has to wonder whether the power-sharing administration would be up and running again if he was still around.


Election gamble breeds mayhem

4 Theresa May

British Prime Minister

Cold front: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May at the front door of 10 Downing Street in London. Photo: Toby Melville

British politicians have shown themselves capable of taking reckless gambles in recent years.

After David Cameron's disastrous 2016 bet that Britain would stay in the EU in the Brexit referendum, his successor Theresa May took another surprising gamble in April by calling a general election.

May had a substantial lead in the polls at the time, and thought she could enhance her slim House of Commons majority.

She appeared confident and composed as she went on the hustings, but her campaign strategy was inept and she appeared to suffer some kind of meltdown.

Dubbed the "Maybot" by her critics, she parroted the same sound bites about "strong and stable government", but ended up seeming weak and wobbly.

Most pundits, including some Labour party supporters had predicted that Jeremy Corbyn was too left wing to mount a serious challenge.

But he proved to be much more assured on the election trail, and when the votes were counted on June 9, May lost her overall majority. This prompted the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to describe her as a "dead woman walking".

She managed to cobble together a government only by securing the support of the DUP.

Her stint as prime minister continues to be dominated by the civil war in the Conservative Party over its approach to Brexit.

As a politician who voted Remain in last year's referendum, she was dealt an almost impossible hand when she became prime minister.

So long as she is in office, she has to organise the United Kingdom's departure while salvaging as much as possible of its economic interests through close trade links with the EU.

Her grasp on power seems tenuous, but her only consolation is that her potential challengers in the Conservative party seem no more capable of coping with the struggles ahead. - KB

Emmanuel Macron secures victory over France's far-right

5 The Macrons

France's power couple

Hope: Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Morris MacMatzen/Getty

In May, Emmanuel Macron brought back hope to centrists all over Europe when he won a decisive victory over Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in the French presidential election.

Macron (39), a former socialist economy minister, ran as a "neither left nor right" independent promising to shake up the French political system, and took 66pc to Le Pen's 34pc.

His triumph was welcomed by the liberal chattering classes as holding back a tide of populism after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the US election.

Addressing thousands of followers in the grand surroundings of the courtyard of the Louvre, Macron said he would defend France and Europe. He said Europe and the world are "watching us" and "waiting for us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, threatened in so many places".

Speaking of his meteoric rise and victory, he said: "Everyone said it was impossible. But they didn't know France!"

Macron, who had never held elected office, became France's youngest president.

Observers were, if anything, just as intrigued by his relationship with his wife Brigitte as his policies.

Aged 64 at the start of his presidency, Ms Macron is a grandmother-of-seven and 25 years her husband's senior. They met when he was 15 and she was his private school teacher.

Brigitte said in an interview: "Little by little, I was won over by his intelligence. I still haven't measured all its depths."

Inevitably, the tide of hope that accompanied his election gave way to a certain disillusionment.

He has vowed to face down the "slackers" who opposed his labour law reform, and dismissed protesting workers as kicking up "chaos".

But his critics accuse the former investment banker of being haughty, aloof and cut off from real life. -KB

UFC star McGregor scores hype victory of the year

6 Conor McGregor

UFC Star

Conor McGregor

There was no escaping the mixed martial arts fighter this year. Love or loathe his antics, Conor McGregor seemed to be everywhere. And yet, for all the bluster, the Dubliner fought just once in 2017 - and was beaten.

In August, McGregor made his professional boxing debut in one of the most hyped - and ridiculed - sports events of the year. His opponent was the controversial Floyd Mayweather, the retired boxer considered by some to have been one of the sport's greatest ever proponents.

The pair conducted a series of 'press conferences' around the world in which they traded insults with all the sophistication of a couple of brawlers squaring up to each other outside a fast food joint in the early hours of a Sunday morning.

Boxing purists were appalled - and gave McGregor scant chance of success. And there was little surprise among them when Mayweather prevailed over 12 rounds. If the Irishman was disappointed, he hardly showed it - especially when he stood to bag in the region of $100m for his trouble.

The 29-year-old made his name in UFC - the Ultimate Fighting Championship - but he hasn't fought in that code since November 2016 and Dana White, its president, suggested last month that McGregor may never enter the octagon again.

That didn't stop him from entering the ring at the Belator MMA event in Dublin's 3Arena to aggressively remonstrate with the referee.

And last month, he was in the wars again when it was reported that he had gotten into an alleged altercation in a pub with the father of a member of one of Dublin's most feared gangs.

On a happier note for McGregor, his feature length film, Notorious, became the most successful Irish documentary at the box office - but it was unlikely to convert those to whom the charms of the fighter remain elusive.


Historian Corless uncovers evidence of grim past

7 Catherine Corless

Local Historian

Catherine Corless

Few people outside of Tuam, Co Galway, had heard of local woman Catherine Corless until March of this year - but her name is now synonymous with ordinary people who do extraordinary acts for the public good.

In 2014, after years of research, Corless - an amateur historian - published an article documenting the deaths of 796 babies and toddlers at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, which operated in the town between 1925 and 1961. As a result, excavations were carried out between November 2016 and 2017 and the horrific discovery of a mass grave completely vindicated Corless.

News of the children's corpses buried in the facility's septic tank quickly went around the world, a remnant of Ireland's dark past - especially in the way society treated women. It was a reminder that in institutions like 'The Home' - as the place was colloquially known in Tuam - there was a far higher than normal incidence of child mortality.

Then Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke candidly in the Dáil about the culture that existed in an Ireland were such mother and baby homes were established to deal with a 'problem' that many wanted to sweep under the carpet.

"No nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children," he said. "We gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns' care. We gave them up maybe to spare them the savagery of gossip, the wink and the elbow language of delight in which the holier than thous were particularly fluent. We gave them up because of our perverse, in fact, morbid relationship with what is called respectability.

"We took their babies and gifted them, sold them, trafficked them, starved them, neglected them or denied them to the point of their disappearance from our hearts, our sight, our country and, in the case of Tuam and possibly other places, from life itself." -JM

Holles Street master champions controversial maternity hospital move

8 Rhona Mahony

Master of Holles Street Hospital

Frustrated: Rhona Mahony, master of Holles Street. Photo: gareth Chaney

In 2012, Rhona Mahony became the first female master of the National Maternity Hospital, the country's largest. Since the beginning of her tenure, she has railed against the outdated hospital at Holles Street, in the heart of Dublin.

Dr Mahony was one of those senior medics who welcomed the proposed move to an ultra-modern, purpose-built facility on the grounds of St Vincent's Hospital suggesting it was "unarguable" and "unassailable" that the plans would go ahead.

But in April, the future hospital was embroiled in controversy when it emerged that it would be owned by the Sisters of Charity religious order on whose land it was being built. There was dismay among secularists that the order would have a key role in the running of the hospital, especially in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar and the ongoing abortion debate.

Mahony was frustrated over what she saw as a sideshow. "All of the procedures that we perform today - contraception, IVF, termination of pregnancy in the case where a woman is dying - will all be performed in the new hospital. This is going to revolutionise healthcare for women and children and no sideshows must get in the way of this focus."

A former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Peter Boylan - who also happens to be her brother-in-law - led the calls for the Sisters of Charity to have no involvement in the hospital. His stance led to strained relations with Mahony and hospital vice chairman Nicholas Kearns and he later stood down from the board.

The situation was resolved in late May when the nuns announced that they would be ending their involvement with the St Vincent's Healthcare Group and would have no role in the new maternity hospital. But the controversy did expose the fault-lines between an Ireland where the Catholic Church once held sway, and the 21st-century republic where secularism is on the rise.


Fitzgerald controversy shakes government

9 Frances Fitzgerald

Former Tánaiste

In the spotlight: Frances Fitzgerald arrives at Finnstown Castle Hotel in Dublin, to attend the Fine Gael Dublin West Selection Convention after resigning as Tánaiste to avoid a snap election over her handling of a whistleblower scandal. Photo: Press Association

It is hard to fathom now, but earlier this year Frances Fitzgerald was still harbouring ambitions to take over as successor of Enda Kenny and become Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael.

While Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney were the favourites, the Tánaiste said in March she was giving the leadership question "serious consideration".

By the end of November, however, her career appeared to be in ruins as she resigned as Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Having earlier served as Minister for Justice, she followed Alan Shatter in having to resign over controversies over the treatment of the Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe when she was in that department.

The controversy was sparked when it emerged Ms Fitzgerald had been advised as Minister for Justice in 2015 of a legal strategy being used by the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan against Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The Tánaiste had insisted she did not become aware of the strategy, until it was made public in May 2016.

But the email, and subsequent correspondence that emerged, indicated she had been informed.

As the controversy undermined the stability of the Government, she was accused of not acting to protect Sgt McCabe. She insisted she could not have interfered with the O'Higgins Commission, which was investigating the treatment of the whistleblower at the time.

The Taoiseach stood by his Tánaiste, as Fianna Fáil announced it was tabling a motion of no confidence in her.

As the Government crisis deepened it then became apparent that there could be a general election before Christmas unless she quit.

When more information emerged about her knowledge of the approach being taken in the McCabe affair, she had to bow to the inevitable and resign.

Political expediency dictated that Fitzgerald had to go even though the Taoiseach continued to insist she had done nothing wrong. She now hopes to be vindicated by the Charleton Tribunal. -KB

Donnelly makes waves as face of Hurricane Ophelia

10 Joanna Donnelly


Meteorologist Joanna Donnelly.

The worst storm to hit Ireland since 1961 arrived on October 16 and led to the deaths of three people and caused destruction costing tens of millions. Ophelia began life as a hurricane in the Atlantic some 10 days before it hit Ireland, and it petered out north of Scotland around 48 hours after leaving this country.

Met Éireann issued warnings days before it arrived and for the first time ever a Status Red warning - the most severe of its kind - was issued for the entire country.

Meteorologist Joanna Donnelly soon came to be seen as 'the face of Storm Ophelia' thanks to her impassioned pleas for people not to underestimate the severity of the winds and to stay indoors.

In the hours before the storm hit the southern coast, Donnelly said she hoped the intimidating forecast would not come to pass - "I'd rather have egg on my face and the storm move out rather than have anyone harmed" - but when Ophelia claimed her first casualty, cancer support co-ordinator, Claire O'Neill, in Co Waterford, there was widespread gratitude that Met Éireann's warnings had not been misplaced. Later, that Monday two more people lost their lives - Tipperary's Michael Pyke and Louth's Fintan Goss.

Some 30 years before, Donnelly's BBC counterpart Michael Fish, had become infamous for downplaying what would be one of the most severe storms Britain suffered that century. There was no fear of that happening no this occasion - especially with the technological advancements that have transformed the art of meteorology.

Ophelia will be remembered for its 190km winds (recorded off Fastnet Rock in the south west of the country), record high waves and for the severe damage caused to property in Cork and Kerry, including Turner's Cross, Cork City's home ground. Winds destroyed the roof of one of its stands but, undeterred, the football team clinched the league title there the following night. -JM

Weinstein revelations kick off global #MeToo campaign

11 Harvey Weinstein

Hollywood producer

Harvey Weinstein.

For the best part of three decades, super-producer Harvey Weinstein bestrode Hollywood like a colossus. Many of the films he produced or distributed were garlanded with Oscars and critical acclaim. He seemed to have the Midas touch.

But Weinstein's glittering world disintegrated in a matter of hours in October when the New York Times and the New Yorker reported that dozens of women had accused him of sexual harassment or rape. Among the high profile names to go public about their treatment at the hands of the predatory mogul were Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie.

Few could have anticipated the impact these revelations would have with the #metoo hashtag going viral on social media. Women - and some men - documented a long litany of abuse ranging from name-calling to rape and many felt compelled to name the perpetrator. Weinstein opened the floodgates on a deluge of powerful men were revealed to have behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner.

Among those who fell from grace were Kevin Spacey - accused of improper conduct with a 14-year-old boy in the mid-1980s - and US TV giants Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose. Spacey went from A-lister to one who's part in a forthcoming movie was erased, while Lauer and Rose were fired from their primetime television jobs.

Michael Colgan.

A spotlight fell on a number of Irish men, including one of Irish theatre's most important figures, Michael Colgan, above, who was accused of sexually harassing a series of women over several years, and the comedian and broadcaster, Al Porter, below, who was alleged to have groped a number of men.

The latter resigned from his Today FM show and a Christmas panto.

Al Porter

This year marked an important change in the conversation about inappropriate behaviour, much of it driven on social media.

When George Hook made ill advised comments about rape, that appeared to place some blame on the victim, there was a Twitter outcry and he was removed from his daily Newstalk show. -JM

#MyNameIs highlights the plight of our 3,000 homeless children

12 #Mynameis

Campaign: Anthony Flynn, left, director of Inner City Helping Homeless, and artist Will Leger, in a 12ft x 12ft 'room' set up on South King Street by the #mynameis group -12 x 12 is the average size of room given to families by the council. Photo: Damien Eagers

They started appearing on street poles towards the end of August: square posters featuring close-ups of children's faces and with a distinct white band covering the eyes, and a hashtag, #mynameis, emblazoned prominently.

It was a poster campaign to raise awareness about one of the most pressing ills of Ireland Inc 2017 - child homelessness - and featured the unidentifiable images of actual Irish children forced to live in emergency accommodation.

A by-product of the chronic housing shortage this decade is the large number of families having to live in temporary lodgings, usually hotel rooms that are simply not geared to cater for the needs of families, especially those with small children.

The numbers are growing. According to a late November tweet from activists running the MyNameIs campaign, "at least 3,194 children will spend Christmas in emergency accommodation. This is not a just society".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar talked about a "Republic of Opportunity" but many have wondered just what opportunities exist for those in emergency accommodation, especially when rents continue to travel ever upwards - eclipsing that of even the Celtic Tiger years - and the number of new residential units being built is pitifully short of what is required to stabilise a dysfunctional housing market.

And it's a housing market that has become characterised by a new breed of slum landlords - happy to line their pockets while packing low-paid workers into sub-standard properties.

Numbers sleeping rough remain stubbornly high too and there was widespread anger when, at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, senior party leaders, including Varadkar, suggested that the problem here wasn't remarkable by European terms. And yet, in the very week that the Government teetered on the brink of collapse in late November, two rough sleepers died - including a man in a tent in Ranelagh, Dublin. Several observers noted that this des-res suburb is part of the constituency of housing minister, Eoghan Murphy. -JM

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