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Saturday 25 January 2020

How the image of 'Sam' eating dinner on path fuelled anger... and other big stories from 2019

Picture of five-year-old seared itself into people's minds and made housing an election issue, writes Nicola Anderson

homeless boy ‘Sam’ eats his dinner off a sheet of cardboard
homeless boy ‘Sam’ eats his dinner off a sheet of cardboard
members of the PSNI near a laneway leading to Kevin Lunney’s home. Picture: Damien Eagers / INM
Pat Quirke. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Lunney
Lisa Smith
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A small child, eating his dinner off a piece of cardboard while crouched on a Dublin footpath was the single pitiful image that summed up the Ireland of 2019.

The little boy was known as 'Sam' and he was five years old. The Homeless Street Cafe uploaded his picture after a "busy night" in October helping homeless people in the capital, saying the image was "burnt in all the team's minds tonight". "Can we really accept this?" they asked.

Plunged into an incandescent rage by the extent of the homelessness crisis in this country, the nation's answer is that we cannot. The housing crisis is now firmly an election issue.

In February, the number of homeless people in the State climbed above 10,000 for the first time.

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Mary Lowry. Picture: Mark Condren
Mary Lowry. Picture: Mark Condren

Official statistics from the Department of Housing showed 6,480 adults and 3,784 children/dependants accessed emergency accommodation during the week beginning February 18, a total of 10,264 people.

In May, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy told a conference that co-living blocks offer an "exciting" choice to young workers, provoking a storm of controversy. The arrangement would see up to eight occupants share a common living and dining area while having their own en-suite bathroom.

Ana Kriegel
Ana Kriegel

Mr Murphy claimed the arrangement would be "like a very trendy, kind of boutique hotel-type place". In a subsequent interview, he admitted: "I put my foot in my mouth."

The minister survived a vote of no confidence when he told his Dáil colleagues they were engaged in the largest social housing programme in many decades and while it got off to a slow start "we're making real measurable progress".

News in December that Dublin City Council was seeking to build a €22m white-water rafting facility in the IFSC did not go down well among the public, given the better possible uses for the money - for instance, six months previously, €10.5m saw 40 families housed in a new social housing development on the Richmond Road in Drumcondra.

In an angry letter in December, Fr Peter McVerry pointed out that while "we live in one country, there are two different worlds" and a lot of hypocrisy in Ireland, contrasting the charges faced by homeless individuals for petty thefts with the Dáil attendance controversy.

Gay Byrne
Gay Byrne

The year will also go down in the annals as producing the longest-running murder trial before a jury in the history of the State.

The nation breathlessly awaited the latest developments in the 'Mr Moonlight' trial, with dairy farmer Pat Quirke accused of the murder of DJ Bobby Ryan.

Mercilessly and without qualms, Quirke dispatched the gentle, good-natured man he saw as his rival and a threat to his own happiness, leaving him to lie for two years in a runoff tank on Mary Lowry's farm at Fawnagowan, Co Tipperary.

The trial resulted in Ms Lowry having to 'bare her soul' before the court. She had been having a toxic affair with Quirke, her brother-in-law, but had ended things in order to enjoy a relationship with Bobby Ryan. She told the trial that she wanted to solve this 'murder mystery'.

John Delaney. Picture: Steve Humphreys
John Delaney. Picture: Steve Humphreys

After a 71-day trial, Quirke was found guilty by a majority verdict of 10-2.

Another trial brought the highly troubling murder of Ana Kriegel into focus.

Her killers, known as Boy A and Boy B, are the youngest people in the history of the State to be convicted of murder. Both were just 13 when they murdered 14-year-old Ana at a disused farmhouse in Lucan, Co Dublin, in May 2018.

Boy B was sentenced to 15 years for murder, with a review after eight years. It emerged in December that he is to appeal his conviction.

Boy A, his co-accused, was convicted of murder and aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to life with a review after 12 years for murdering Ana.

In September, shocking news came of the abduction and torture of Kevin Lunney. The Quinn Industrial Holdings director was abducted outside his home in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, and taken to a horsebox across the Border, where he was savagely beaten, doused in bleach and had the initials QIH carved into his chest.

Cavan priest Fr Oliver O'Reilly delivered a homily in which he warned that people behind the attack are being led by a "Godfather" figure. He added that the attackers were financed by people "so consumed with hatred they have lost their moral compass".

Businessman Seán Quinn has consistently denied any involvement and criticised the attacks and intimidation on QIH staff. Mr Quinn wrote to the Vatican to complain about the homily, saying: "I and my family have also been frightened and intimidated by my being falsely accused of complicity in the attack from the altar in public, by my own local priest."

Four men charged with the kidnap and torture of Mr Lunney were remanded in custody in December.

Also in December, alleged Isil bride Lisa Smith arrived back to Ireland on a commercial flight from Turkey. The former member of the Defence Forces and her daughter were escorted off the plane under a pink blanket.

Dressed in a black hijab, the Dundalk woman appeared in court in Dublin charged with being part of a terrorist group outside the State between October 2015 and December 2019. The court has heard that she will be denying the charge.

Two key pillars of Irish entertainment royalty were lost to us this year.

Thousands of fans lined the streets of The Liberties in Dublin for the funeral of entertainer Brendan Grace, who died in July, aged 68, following a short illness.

With a last gift of humour, Grace's manager for almost 40 years, Brian Keane, quipped that he had told him to "set up my merch table at the back of the room", adding: "You could shift some of the last DVDs and cut the priest in for 20pc."

That legendary icon of Irish broadcasting, Gay Byrne, passed away in November at the age of 85 and his funeral saw an outpouring of grief and reminiscence about the many, many key societal landmarks that had emerged under his stewardship - and how the signature jingle of his radio programme had been the heartbeat of every kitchen.

The visit by US President Donald Trump to Doonbeg in June did not quite have the same 'were you there' resonance. It later emerged that Mr Trump's Co Clare resort was paid more than €107,000 to provide food to gardaí deployed around west Clare to protect him.

The 'Trump baby blimp' was hoisted aloft in Dublin and protests were held in Shannon.

But the Trump sons, Don Jnr and Eric, hit Doonbeg for a pub crawl, buying drinks for all, praising the people of Clare as "incredible" for supporting their golf resort and claiming that Irish support for their father's visit "outweighed" any protests.

By strange coincidence, US Vice-President Mike Pence had his own links with Doonbeg - ancestral rather than business this time - and in September he, too, made a beeline for the village.

His visit to the motherland could be said to be something of a disaster, with things turning distinctly awkward after Mr Pence urged Ireland and the EU to negotiate "in good faith" with Boris Johnson.

The Taoiseach smiled politely. But there was a distinct frost in the air.

Irish Independent

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