Tuesday 21 May 2019

No shortage of controversy in a year of resignations and protests

Members of the Garda public Order Unit on duty on Kildare street during the water charge protest. Photo: Tom Burke
Members of the Garda public Order Unit on duty on Kildare street during the water charge protest. Photo: Tom Burke

January

* The floodgates opened on January 7 when on RTE's Sean O'Rourke programme, Irish Water boss John Tierney revealed that the company had spent €50m on consultants the previous year.

Cue the beginning of a building year-long outrage which would eventually register at 12 on the Beaufort scale.

Another storm broke on January 22 when it was revealed that over three years, more than €10m of taxpayers' money had poured into the Rehab lottery which had sold a measly €10,000-worth of scratch cards in one year. Yet the charity was refusing to divulge the salary of its CEO, Angela Kerins.

And on January 23, a third major typhoon blew up when Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan described the actions of garda whistleblowers John Wilson and Maurice McCabe as "disgusting".

On January 25, the Reform Alliance of TDs and Senators hosted a 'monster meeting' in the RDS which drew in 1,350 enthusiasts - not enough to tempt Lucinda Creighton to launch a new party.

February

* We were gripped by the forces of law and order, involving a large cast including Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Martin Callinan and the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) and featuring an Insomnia Cafe and more spies and bugs than a James Bond box-set.

Accusations flew between the minister and GSOC all month, leading to the sacking of the Garda Confidential recipient Oliver Connolly after claims he told Garda Maurice McCabe, "If Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished". Oliver's head wouldn't be alone in this particular basket for long.

On February 18 Rehab finally coughed up the salary of Angela Kerins - a whopping €240,000.

March

Q March began pleasantly for the Taoiseach; on March 6 he hosted bigwigs from the European People's Party (EPP) including German chancellor Angela Merkel, and then headed off to Washington DC for his annual Paddy's Day sit-down with President Obama.

On March 24, Labour-turned-Independent TD Patrick Nulty resigned his seat after it emerged he sent inappropriate Facebook messages to a female constituent.

The following day there was sad news of the death of Longford-Westmeath TD Nicky McFadden from Motor Neurone Disease, and also by the shock resignation of the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

April

* On April 2, under-fire Rehab chief Angela Kerins resigned.

During his official visit to Britain President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were given the royal treatment by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.

Alas, then education minister Ruairi Quinn's reception at the teachers conferences was less gracious - at the ASTI conference in Wexford on April 22, delegate Andrew Phelan heckled the minister through a megaphone.

On April 30, Gerry Adams in Belfast when he was arrested by the PSNI and questioned for four days in connection with the 1972 IRA murder of mother-of-ten Jean McConville. He was released without charge.

May

* May began and ended with dramatic resignations. On May 7, the Taoiseach announced the resignation of Alan Shatter to a gobsmacked Dail, following receipt of the Guerin Report into allegations by Maurice McCabe.

When the votes were counted on May 24 following the local and European elections, a disgruntled electorate had administered a kicking to Fine Gael and Labour.

Two days later Eamon Gilmore fell on his sword as leader of the Labour Party, just as a backbench revolt was poised for launch.

June

* On June 4, Finance Minister Michael Noonan startled everyone by revealing he had been treated for cancer after finding a lump in his right arm.

July

* To nobody's shock, Joan Burton was elected Labour leader with Tipperary's Alan Kelly winning the deputy leader rosette.

Enda and Joan unveiled their new team on July 11 - Leo Varadkar was handed the mug of hemlock (Health), while everyone googled the name of the new Arts Minister, Heather Humphreys.

The reshuffled junior ministers were announced on July 15, and the lack of women on Team Enda severely displeased his female backbenchers.

Former Fianna Fáil junior minister, Ivor Callely was sent to the clink on July 28 for five months for falsifying mobile phone expenses claims in Leinster House.

August

* The first pre-Budget kites appeared, and property prices began to rise sharply. the month was dominated by the death on August 21 of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds at the age of 81.

September

* September began on a cheerful note, with Michael Noonan finding himself with €1bn extra in his coffers.

Phil Hogan landed the €300,000-a year Brussels plum post as EU Agriculture Commissioner on September 9.

In the North, Dr. Ian Paisley died at the age of 88.

The domestic political scene was in turmoil over what became dubbed 'IMMAgate'. Donegal businessman and Fine Gael member John McNulty was selected as the party's candidate for a vacant Seanad seat vacated by the May election less than a week after he had been appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. He had been nominated by the Taoiseach, leapfrogging three proposed female candidates. The cronyism row descended into farce, culminating in Mr McNulty withdrawing.

October

* Public ire grew in the face of stories about bonuses for senior managers at Irish Water, concern over submitting PPS numbers, and uncertainty over charges, and about 50,000 protestors marched through Dublin on October 11.

The other major story of the month involved shocking claims by Mairia Cahill on BBC NI's 'Spotlight' programme on October 13, that she was raped by a senior IRA figure and then forced to attend a kangaroo court held by IRA members.

On October 14, Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy for Dublin South-West, and Independent for Roscommon-South Leitrim Michael Fitzmaurice took their seats in the Dail.

November

* Massive anti-water charge protests took place across the country on November 1, with over 100,000 on the streets. Some protests turned nasty - on November 15 Tánaiste Joan Burton was trapped inside her car for over two hours in Jobstown.

A spooked coalition scrambled to defuse the public anger, with Environment Minister Alan Kelly announcing a drastically watered-down package of charges in the Dail on November 19.

On November 25, Noirin O'Sullivan was appointed the new Garda Commissioner. Meanwhile, Dail disorder continued, with Mary Lou staging a four-hour sit-in.

December

* There was another water protest march to Leinster House on December 10, but although about 30,000 turned up on a freezing Wednesday, there was a sense that momentum had gone out of the movement (for now). The Water Services Bill crawled through the Dail and Seanad.

But the year ended on a gayer note for the Taoiseach - he turned up in Pantibar on Capel Street on December 2, and on December 16, the government announced two referendums for next May, one on the age eligibility for presidential election candidates, the other on same-sex marriage.

Irish Independent

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