Tuesday 21 May 2019

52 people who shaped 2018

The big read: It was the year of a housing crisis, the abortion vote, a presidential election and hand-wringing over plans for Britain's EU exit. Kim Bielenberg, John Meagher and Catherine O'Mahony profile the individuals who shaped the news, sport, politics and culture of the year - one for each week of 2018

Vicky Phelan who received incorrect smear test results in 2011 and was subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Vicky Phelan who received incorrect smear test results in 2011 and was subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. Photo: Fergal Phillips
The picture that caused outrage.
Nowhere to go: Margaret Cash (left) and her children Johnny, Rocky, Jim, Andy, Tommy and Miley at The Inner City Helping Homeless organisation on Amien Street, Dublin. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Ailbhe Smyth
Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Laganside court on March 5, 2018. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Determined: Yvonne O'Byrne, Nicola Daly, Róisín Upton, Deirdre Duke, Zoe Wilson, Elena Tice and Lizzie Colvin celebrate with their silver medals. Photo by Craig Mercer/Sportsfile
Leo Varadkar.
Sally Rooney.
Ryan Tubridy.
Kevin Doran.
Johnny Sexton.

Kim Bielenberg, John Meagher and Catherine O'Mahony

It was a year when we looked out in different directions from our small island in the Atlantic and found reason to tut-tut self-righteously at the erratic behaviour of others.

If there was one reason to feel smug about ourselves in 2018, apart from the weeks of sunny weather and our victory in the Six Nations Rugby Championship, it was the erratic goings-on across the Irish Sea in Britain as the country pulled itself apart over Brexit.

Why can't they behave themselves, we wondered. Not since the era of rampant football hooliganism have we felt quite so sanctimonious about our neighbours.

As at least one commentator remarked, negotiating with the British over Brexit is like starting a game of football, and then having to stand around while the opposing team's players fight amongst themselves in an extended brawl.

Brexit started years ago as a row in the Conservative Party, and that is the way it continued in 2018.

And looking west across the Atlantic, we could only shrug our shoulders and sigh at the incoherent and comical antics of President Donald Trump, as exposed by Michael Wolff in his book, Fire and Fury.

How can the "free world" possibly be run by a man who wants to retire to his bedroom early - so that he can eat cheeseburgers and watch Fox News in his bathrobe?

At the start of the year, one might have looked to France as a beacon of western civilisation. Just last year, voters there rejected the populist right of the National Front in favour of an articulate centrist leader, Emmanuel Macron.

But already, the shine has come off the young leader, and the country was afflicted by the worst rioting since 1968.

As other countries face disorder and division, Leo Varadkar might feel that he is muddling along just fine in his novelty socks.

By early December, Leo seemed to have kept the show on the road for another year, defying predictions by some pundits that this government would never last.

The unfortunate resignation of minister Denis Naughten after he had one too many dinners with a businessman promising to bring us broadband was hardly on the scale of Watergate.

Earlier in the year, a liberal halo shone above Leo as the Yes side won the abortion referendum by a wide margin. Unemployment has fallen and there has been economic growth. And yet, for all that, there is no room for complacency at all, and plenty of reason to believe that we could face similar problems to those in America, France and Britain.

As the French commentator Christophe Guilluy has argued, the rebellion against Macron comes from small-town, rural, peripheral areas that have not prospered in the past decade.

The same goes for Trump's blue-collar support base in America, and some of the pro-Brexit heartlands in Britain.

This year we have also had our own rumblings that small-town and rural Ireland has at best enjoyed only a partial recovery.

The lesson for Leo Varadkar must surely be that he cannot just govern for a metropolitan elite. We saw in the water charges campaigns earlier in the decade how protests can escalate rapidly.

After almost eight years in government, Fine Gael has still not got to grips with some of the country's most intractable problems.

The housing shortage, with high prices and astronomical rents, is if anything, worse at the end of the year than at the start.

The inefficiencies in the health service are ever-present with long waiting lists and patients left on trolleys. In his report on the CervicalCheck scandal, where women were kept in the dark about inaccurate test results, Dr John Scally said: "The problems uncovered are redolent of a whole-system failure."

This year offered more evidence of the decline of the influence of the Catholic Church both in politics and in our everyday lives, as the country continues on its secular, liberal path.

The Church could not be more clear in its opposition to abortion, and yet 68pc of Yes voters in the referendum allowing for the liberalisation of the abortion laws classified themselves as Catholic, according to an RTÉ exit poll.

The Catholic hierarchy must also have been privately alarmed at the public response to the Pope's visit. They prepared to welcome 500,000 to the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park, but only 150,000 turned up - and the visit reawakened concerns about the Church's inadequate response to clerical sex abuse.

In the autumn, Michael D Higgins won the presidential election at a canter, and was perhaps blessed by the low calibre of his opponents.

Higgins may have championed progressive values, but by surging into second place on 23pc after an attack on Travellers, the runner-up Peter Casey showed there is a section of the electorate happy to cock a snook at the liberal consensus.

We began the year as we finish it, concerned but not too alarmed about what the effect of Brexit on our Border might be.

But we have still found plenty of reasons to be cheerful in 2018. It is not every year that we have months of sunny weather, our women's hockey team gets to the final of a World Cup, and we defeat the mighty All Blacks in rugby. If we can defy the haka, we can surely survive Brexit. KB

 

1 Vicky highlights cervical smear scandal

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Vicky Phelan who received incorrect smear test results in 2011 and was subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Vicky Phelan became a champion for patients all over the country when she highlighted the flaws in the CervicalCheck programme.

Vicky, a literacy manager and mother of two children from Limerick, brought the CervicalCheck controversy to light in April when she settled a court action against a US lab for €2.5m. The lab had been subcontracted to carry out tests by CervicalCheck.

By the time of her court settlement, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Vicky had a smear test in 2011 after the birth of her second child and it initially showed no abnormalities. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. That same year an audit of her 2011 test showed that it was not accurate, but she was not told about this fact until last year.

The Scally Review into the controversy later found there were “serious gaps” in governance and expertise and failure across the whole system of the CervicalCheck programme.

The scandal saw 221 women with cervical cancer not informed that smear test results showing them to be clear were inaccurate and that revised test results were kept from them.

Dr Gabriel Scally said there was a “demonstrable deficit of clear governance” and reporting lines within the National Screening Service and the higher management of the HSE.

Last month as a result of her advocacy on behalf of patients, Vicky was named by the BBC as one of its 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world in 2018.

Vicky is being treated with the drug Pembrolizumab and recently said in an interview on RTÉ that it was allowing her to live with her cancer.

The drug, which can cost over €8000 per dose, has been offered by the State to the 221 women affected by the CervicalCheck crisis.

Vicky has urged the Government to make the drug available to all women with cervical cancer in Ireland.

Among the other women who spoke out publicly about the scandal was Kerry woman Emma Mhic Mhathúna. In May she walked into her local Raidió na Gaeltachta studio in west Kerry and explained live on air how she was one of the women affected by an incorrect smear tests.

In October, Emma died at the age of 37. In a statement, her family said she died in the “knowledge that she had helped to shine a light on important issues which affected not just her own life, but the lives of many others”. KB

2 Veteran campaigner enjoys victory in Abortion Referendum

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Ailbhe Smyth
 

After a lifetime of campaigning, the former head of Women's Studies at UCD Ailbhe Smyth helped to lead the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which banned abortion.

Smyth had also been heavily involved in the marriage equality referendum in 2015.

Activists in Together for Yes had clearly learned from the success of that campaign.

According to Smyth, rather than focusing on legal issues, campaigners focused on the personal stories of women who had been affected by the Eighth Amendment.

The stories, including those of mothers of babies with fatal foetal abnormalities, was coupled with clear medical information from senior obstetricians such as Peter Boylan and Rhona Mahony.

The victory of the Yes side - with 66.4pc of the vote - was more comprehensive than many had anticipated and an almost exact reversal of the vote in 1983 to insert the amendment in the constitution.

Smyth said the abortion campaign was the culmination of a five-year plan first drawn up in the aftermath of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.

"This will be a moment of profound change in Ireland's social history, a moment when the nation collectively stood up for women and for their healthcare, and voted for constitutional change," Smyth said. KB

3 Clouds darken for Teflon Taoiseach Leo

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Leo Varadkar.
 

As he celebrated one year in office in the middle of this year, Leo Varadkar must have been tempted to call an early election.

He was basking in the glow of victory in the abortion referendum, the weather seemed to be permanently sunny, unemployment was low, and Fine Gael were way out in front in opinion polls.

There was speculation that Varadkar might go to the country, but there was no perfect time to do it, with Brexit negotiations in full swing and a budget to be negotiated.

A few months on, Varadkar can still be reasonably optimistic, and he has avoided major disasters.

But there are a few signs that all may not be as rosy for him as it seemed in the middle of the year.

The Brexit clouds have been darkening and by the start of this month, the lack of a clear indication of a final outcome made the mood less certain. The housing crisis and continuing problems in health have proved intractable, and so far Leo has somehow managed to steer clear of the blame, which rests squarely on his ministers.

Towards the end of year, the Taoiseach was the target of more trenchant criticism. Comparisons with the Bertie Ahern administration during the Celtic Tiger era were made after Leo promised tax cuts.

The State's budgetary watchdog, the Fiscal Advisory Council, launched an unprecedented attack on his Government for "repeatedly" missing its own financial targets and for failing to manage the public finances in a prudent manner. KB

4 Combustible Roy signs off on a grim year

Irish international soccer has arguably never had a grimmer year in 2018. There wasn't a single competitive win and the brand of football played was so dire that the public appeared to tune out. There were more than 20,000 empty seats at the Aviva Stadium for the friendly against Northern Ireland - a tie that seemed to go by without any fanfare. And there was precious little to cheer on the pitch, as the Boys in Green struggled to deliver a single good performance all year.

The dire nature of the soccer was epitomised by the controversy surrounding Roy Keane. Assistant to Martin O'Neill, he proved to be just as combustible as he was as a player and he fell out spectacularly with both Jon Walters and Harry Arter. When he and O'Neill resigned after an abject 0-0 away draw to Denmark, some questioned just what role Keane had actually had.

The appointment of Keane's Saipan nemesis, Mick McCarthy, as Ireland manager has been warmly welcomed although there are mixed views about the FAI's decisions to replace him with former Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny after the 2020 Euros, irrespective of how McCarthy might have done. JM

5 Michelle Obama pulls no punches

For a woman who has made utterly clear she has no passion for politics, the wife of former US president Barack Obama has certainly shown herself capable of building an audience.

Michelle Obama released her autobiography, Becoming, in November, amid an extraordinary level of hype for any book, even a memoir by a former first lady. The book was the result of a joint book deal the Obamas signed with Penguin Random House in 2017 for a book each in exchange for an eye-dropping reported advance of $65m.

Michelle's 13-date book tour was a massive sell-out, with 21 dates added in the New Year. In London, Michelle showed up at the Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, which has capacity for 2,900 people - and at least 10 times that number tried to get seats. Online, tickets traded hands for as much as £7,000.

Becoming included new revelations about the Obamas' marriage, including a battle to conceive their two children that saw them need IVF treatment.

Rather more interesting, arguably, were nuggets such as Michelle's initial view of her husband, expressed (it should be made clear) before she had actually laid eyes on him but had heard glowing reports of this hot-shot young lawyer about to arrive in her firm. She was sceptical: "In my experience, you put a suit on any half-intelligent black man and white people tend to go bonkers." CO'M

6 Murphy struggles to solve Housing Crisis

After a year and a half as minister, Eoghan Murphy has struggled to get to grips with the most pressing problems facing the country - homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing.

Few doubt his commitment to the job, but homelessness has smashed new records on his watch. By late October, the number of people living in homeless accommodation across Ireland remained stubbornly close to 10,000.

And the problems for ordinary homebuyers and renters show little sign of abating, as their costs seemed to spiral ever-upwards.

The minister seemed to find difficulty in mobilising county councils to build new homes on the scale required. Huge tracts of land in public ownership have not yet been put to use for the building of affordable homes, either for rent or purchase.

The Government has not only failed to build homes for the poorest sections of society after seven years of Fine Gael in office, it has also left those in the next tier up struggling to find affordable roofs over their heads. KB

 

7 Drumm finally jailed after 'massive con'

A judge branded the banker David Drumm's actions "grossly reprehensible" as he was jailed for six years for his part in a €7.2bn plot to defraud the markets during the 2008 financial crisis.

What a mighty fall it was for Anglo Irish Bank's former chief executive, who once had a salary of over €3m. The 52-year-old was handed prisoner number 102640 in Mountjoy Prison as he began life behind bars a decade after he was at the centre of a financial storm.

Drumm sat in the dock as the sentence was handed down by Judge Karen O'Connor at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

His sentence was the stiffest imposed for a banking-related offence in Irish history.

A jury had found Drumm guilty of two charges by unanimous verdict, after a trial that lasted nearly five months.

He had pleaded not guilty to conspiring to defraud, by dishonestly creating the impression Anglo's customer deposits were €7.2bn larger than they really were in September 2008.

The case centred on a series of interbank deposits that circulated between Anglo and Irish Life and Permanent.

The prosecution had said that what Drumm had taken part in was a "massive con".

In a measured ruling, the judge described his actions as "grossly reprehensible".

"This court is not sentencing Mr Drumm for causing the financial crisis," Judge O'Connor said, stressing that Drumm was being sentenced only for the specific charges.

He had held a position of trust and was part of a conspiracy that "potentially could have caused significant loss", she said, adding it was "premeditated and planned". KB

 

8 Starlight falls on Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney.
 

These are heady times for Irish literature and especially for one of its brightest young stars. Sally Rooney followed up her much-praised debut Conversations with Friends with the critically adored Normal People. It was voted An Post Irish Novel of the Year award in November.

Mayo-born Rooney, who's still in her 20s, has the been described as the 'Salinger of the Snapchat generation' and her work seems to have connected with a young audience. She will enjoy far wider exposure when Normal People gets the BBC treatment - it's set to be made into a mini-series by Lenny Abrahamson, Dublin director of the Oscar-winning Room.

Rooney was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, but it was another Irish writer - Belfast's Anna Burns - who scooped Britain's most prestigious literary gong for her latest, Milkman. Although described by some as challenging, Milkman proved to be something of a sales sensation.

Christine Mangan, US-born, but with a PhD from University College Dublin, had quite a year, too. Her debut, Tangerine, was the subject of a bidding war and although the reviews were lukewarm, she will have consoled herself with the fact that George Clooney's production company has snapped up the film rights and Scarlett Johansson is set to play the lead character. JM

 

9 Elon Musk goes into orbit

This summer, attempts to rescue 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from flooded caves held the world riveted. Divers were sent from across the world to help in the extraordinarily tricky task of accessing the boys and working out a way to extract them, one by one, from the dank ledge where they were trapped for many days without food.

It was heroic stuff that had a happy ending, but the only sour note in the whole proceedings was struck by Elon Musk, the billionaire technology entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX, who tried to help by building - and then personally delivering - a tiny submarine to the cave that he believed might be used to take them out.

His help wasn't needed and when a British diver, Vernon Unsworth, criticised Musk's intervention, Musk responded by calling Unsworth a paedophile. Unsworth is suing.

The ever-controversial Musk made headlines throughout 2018. After a first-quarter earnings Tesla conference call, he criticised Wall Street analysts for asking "bonehead" questions. He told the New York Times he was working 120 hours a week and reliant on Ambien, a sleeping drug. And then he claimed on Twitter - incorrectly - that he had secured funding to take Tesla private. He has since been replaced as the company's chairman. CO'M

 

10 Troubled start for Mary Lou

Mary Lou McDonald formally took over as President of Sinn Féin in February after the long reign of Gerry Adams. There were no other nominees for the post.

As she took over the leadership, there must have been high hopes that she could broaden the party's appeal, particularly among middle-class Dublin voters.

On the plus side, Sinn Féin remains the third party in Irish politics, but the poor result in the presidential election campaign showed that Mary Lou can take nothing for granted.

Although she is an accomplished performer in the Dáil, the early months of her leadership caused some to question her political judgment.

The party found itself out-manoeuvred by President Higgins and failed to start the campaign of its candidate Liadh Ní Riada until much too late, and she failed to make an impact.

Although one cannot draw too many conclusions from the presidential poll, the fourth place finish on 6.4pc was a drubbing.

Mary Lou also found herself being accused of "rank hypocrisy" after missing the presidential inauguration on November 11 to attend a $400 plate party fundraising dinner in New York.

And her performance on Brexit has hardly been stellar so far, with her abstentionist MPs cast as hurlers on the ditch as they sit on the sidelines. KB

 

11 Rollercoaster year for Tubridy

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Ryan Tubridy.
 

RTÉ's highest paid star has been in the Late Late hot chair for a decade now and has kept audience figures high, but there have been plenty of ups and downs in 2018.

One of the highs was his May interview with Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who articulated wonderfully the horror and outrage of being one of the women caught up in the cervical cancer screening scandal. Her death, in October, saw Tubridy emotively discuss the impact she had made on both him and the nation.

The interview was a reminder of the power of The Late Late Show to capture the really big stories of the day, but it also a receptacle of the banal - just think of Shane Lynch's expletive-fuelled outburst during that Boyzone interview.

Ray D'Arcy's Saturday night talkshow has rarely threatened to usurp the Late Late in the nation's affections, but the man he replaced on weekend primetime - Brendan O'Connor - went from strength to strength on his biting panel show, Cutting Edge.

And, over on Virgin Media, Pat Kenny got one over on Claire Byrne, the person that effectively replaced him on RTÉ television, by securing all six presidential candidates for a fiery debate. JM

 

12 Hopeless and homeless: the plight of Margaret Cash

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Nowhere to go: Margaret Cash (left) and her children Johnny, Rocky, Jim, Andy, Tommy and Miley at The Inner City Helping Homeless organisation on Amien Street, Dublin. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
 

It was a photo that summed up the Irish housing crisis: young children sleeping on the hard chairs of a garda station because they had no home to go to. The picture was taken by mother-of-seven Margaret Cash, and it caused outrage. How could it be that a country whose economy seemed to be so buoyant had a problem of such magnitude on their hands?

Cash was a hugely sympathetic figure for many, but others were less charitable, especially when it emerged that she was a member of the Travelling community. It highlighted a resentment towards Travellers that would become apparent months later during Peter Casey’s controversial presidential bid.

But even those who couldn’t bring themselves to feel sympathy for a single mother with seven young children to support would surely have acknowledged that the most pressing issue facing Ireland in 2018 was the shortage of affordable housing to rent or to buy.

In truth, there were many people like Cash who helped demonstrate what a seemingly hopeless situation so many of our most vulnerable citizens find themselves in today.

More than 10,000 people are homeless in Ireland, and in 2018, the vast majority of those had to make do with emergency accommodation in hotels, which was especially trying for those with children.   Some members of the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ found the going tough this year, too. Rents have increased for 10 successive quarters and are now far in excess of what they were during the peak of the Celtic Tiger. 

The lack of supply is acute, too — and, for some, Airbnb are to blame because at any one time there are three times as many properties available to rent in their entirety on the short-term lettings platform than there are in the normal housing market. 

The Government promised to introduce legislation to stop unlimited whole property letting on Airbnb and other platforms. Just a few weeks previously, campaigners from Take Back the City had staged a demonstration in Airbnb’s European headquarters in Dublin’s Docklands.

Take Back the City protesters also made their feelings known this year by raising awareness about the large stock of vacant properties in Dublin by staging occupations in some of them. Footage of masked gardaí and security personnel attempting to gain back control of one property soon went viral.

For housing minister Eoghan Murphy, 2018 was a year he might like to forget. But 2019 is likely to be just as challenging.  JM

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The picture that caused outrage.

 

13 Macron cowed by 'gilets jaunes'

French President Emmanuel Macron has not watered down his ambition for Europe. After a meeting with his German counterpart Angela Merkel in November, he declared what he said was the shared responsibility of France and Germany: "This responsibility means building something, building a truly sovereign Europe and building a strong European Union on this sovereignty."

And yet he saw his honeymoon with the French electorate come to a crashing end in 2018, whose final weeks saw increasingly violent protests on the streets of Paris over his plans to raise fuel taxes - something all governments are under pressure to deliver to tackle climate change.

Macron's regime was forced to back down as the so-called gilets jaunes movement (named for their yellow vests) led to chaotic scenes of torched cars and looting on the fancier streets of the French capital. When the young, reformist Macron took office in 2017, he promised a revolution - but not one like this. His critics label him elitist and out of touch, and say he is too quick to favour business. With the French unemployment rate still close to 10pc, the perception of a massive chasm between the political elite and the common person will be tough to challenge. CO'M

 

14 When Francis failed to marshal the ranks

It might have been one of the biggest events of the year. In reality, this year's two-day visit by Pope Francis to Ireland saw most of us going about our business as usual.

In the end, it was estimated that some 150,000 people turned up in Dublin's Phoenix Park on a miserably wet August Sunday to see the pontiff. The contrast to the last papal visit in 1979, when more than a million souls thronged the park, was impossible to miss.

The timing of this visit was less than ideal. A renewed burst of outrage was under way globally over the Catholic Church's handling of clerical sexual abuse. There was the Irish scandal of the mother and baby homes. It seemed as though the Pope might use his visit to bring about some healing. Ahead of the visit, he wrote a 2,000-word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests and called for accountability.

In Phoenix Park, he read out a note that said: "We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power and conscience; sexual abuses on the part of qualified members of the Church."

To the survivors of abuse who had hoped for action, it was not enough. CO'M

 

15 Cora Staunton works her wizardry in Aus

It was a particularly great year for Irish sports women, and while it was Dublin who won the All-Ireland Senior Ladies' Football Championship, a three-time champion from Mayo hoovered up a great deal of coverage.

Widely considered to be one of the greatest female GAA players ever, Staunton (inset) signed professional terms with the embryonic women's Australian rules football league and she made quite an impression early this year, bagging the goal of the season accolade for her troubles.

And she was making news in Mayo, too when she was among those who controversially criticised the management of the county's ladies' senior football side. She claimed the set-up was 'unsafe', a loaded comment which drew the ire of several commentators. The year ended on a positive note for the footballer, however. Her memoir, the aptly titled Game Changer, was named Irish Sports Book of the Year at An Post's national book awards.

Staunton's male counterparts in Mayo had a disappointing year, and failed to reach the inaugural 'Super 8s' part of the championship. They came out second best in one of the most talked about events of the GAA year - the refusal of Kildare to allow their match with Mayo to be moved to Croke Park. JM

 

16 'Fear', BS and Trump's world uncovered

Of the many gifts 2018 has given us, few were more compelling than the explosive book about the US president that landed in shops on September 11, courtesy of Bob Woodward, the legendary journalist of Watergate-reporting fame.

While Michael Wolff's earlier Fire and Fury had detailed curious goings-on in the US administration, Fear produced such nuggets as the following (alleged) verdict on Trump from ex-White House chief of staff John F Kelly: "He's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything... I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

Kelly labelled this report "total BS".

Woodward also wrote that Trump's national security team has been shaken by his lack of knowledge about world affairs. He said senior aides conspired to remove papers from Trump's desk to stop him from doing anything with them. None of this mattered all that much when it came to the November midterms, it should be added, with the Republicans holding on to many of their positions. The Democrats may have (barely) taken a House majority, but Trump wasn't saving face when he declared the outcome a victory for himself. By December, polls were showing his job approval rating rising, meaning his chances of a second term remain decent. CO'M

 

17 Oh my god, 'Aisling' gets ready for big-screen treatment

If Paul Howard created an indelibly Irish character in Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, then Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght have also delivered a satirical figure who is most identifiable to readers from this country. Aisling is a country girl in the big smoke and her trials and tribulations have proved a huge hit with (mainly female) readers.

After the runaway success of debut Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling last year, the pair returned with the award-winning The Importance of Being Aisling in 2018. Aisling is set to get the big-screen treatment, with Element Pictures - the production company seemingly behind every Irish movie of significance - buying the rights this year.

And if Breen and McLysaght might wonder how long Aisling has left to run, they need only look at O'Carroll-Kelly. Howard published his 18th book in the series, Dancing with the Tsars, in September. It remains a distinctly south Dublin universe that the Irish reading public can't get enough.

It was a also a good year for female comedians like Joanne McNally, who had a good run at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival and will likely make an impression with her debut solo tour, Gleebag, next year. JM

 

18 Coppinger holds up thong in the dáil

The story of a Cork rape trial made international headlines and sparked protests in towns and cities across the country after the Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger produced an item of underwear in the Dáil in November.

During the trial, a female defence barrister urged the jury to consider the fact the 17-year-old complainant was wearing a thong with a lace front.

The fact that what a women was wearing was raised in the context of a defence in a rape trial was widely criticised.

Coppinger reacted by holding up a thong up in the Dáil while arguing that the Government needed to take action to stop "rape myths" being used in court cases. Her action was covered in international media.

The Solidarity TD showed the Taoiseach the piece of black underwear in a bid to convince him to introduce "massive legal changes".

Ms Coppinger claimed the Dáil hadn't "taken sexual assault and harassment any way serious enough". KB

 

19 Michael D knocks them out of the park

Michael D Higgins was given a resounding endorsement by the electorate when he won the presidential election by a wide margin in October.

As well as his usual highfalutin rhetoric, the President showed his deft political skills during the campaign. As the incumbent, he enjoyed a natural advantage, and exploited it to the full.

He delayed announcing that he would seek a second term until late, giving his rivals less time to organise an effective campaign.

Knowing that the election was his to lose, the president did not get involved in too many debates.

While he was the target of attacks by Peter Casey, who performed surprisingly well, Michael D maintained his presidential aura and was not tempted to get down and dirty.

Sitting comfortably on top of the polls since the campaign began, the incumbent sailed through to win on the first count with 822,566 first preference votes or 55.8pc of total valid votes.

In a thinly veiled reference to criticisms of Travellers by the runner-up Peter Casey during the campaign, Higgins said: "Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide...

"A real Republic is one where every person is encouraged and supported to participate fully and where every person and community is treated with dignity and respect." KB

20 Irish women take Hockey world by storm

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Determined: Yvonne O'Byrne, Nicola Daly, Róisín Upton, Deirdre Duke, Zoe Wilson, Elena Tice and Lizzie Colvin celebrate with their silver medals. Photo by Craig Mercer/Sportsfile
 

The thought of Ireland playing in a World Cup final is the stuff of dreams for many sports fans, but it came to pass in August when the country’s women’s hockey side faced the Netherlands in the sport’s bluechip game in London. 

The team — featuring the best of talent from both the Republic and Northern Ireland — were soundly beaten in the final, but their path to the summit was one that captivated the nation. Few outside the country’s small hockey fraternity knew much about the likes of Chloe Watkins or Gillian Pinder, but they were household names at the end thanks to the dogged determination that summed up the team’s spirit. And coach Graham Shaw left his mark, too — he came across as a likeable, straight-talking figure who got the best out of his charges. 

The World Cup runners-up were given a glowing reception on their way back to Dublin with sport minister Shane Ross promising that extra funding would be allocated to hockey in the hope that both the women’s and men’s teams might make the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.

Ross seemed to struggle with the portfolio in 2018 and his failure to even learn the names of the sports people he was congratulating was widely lampooned. He mixed up rugby’s Kearney brothers, Rob and Dave, and the press statement from his department talked about a victorious Irish rower called Dominant Puspure. Her actual name is Sanita Puspure. 

There were mixed fortunes in the GAA’s main codes. Dublin, as expected, cruised their way to a fourth successive All-Ireland title —and it’s difficult to see anyone stopping them winning an unprecedented five-in-row next year.

The hurling championship, by contrast, was considered one of the greatest ever and Limerick finally shook off 45 years of disappointment by winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup. They beat last year’s winners, Galway, in an absorbing final.

The fortunes of the country’s soccer and rugby teams could hardly have been greater. The year was a dismal one for the former, but lovers of the oval ball had a great deal to cheer. There was a Six Nations Grand Slam in the spring and victory over New Zealand in November — and Leinster supporter saw their side sweep all before them in Europe.  JM

 

 

21 Bishop tells 'Yes' voters to go to confession

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Kevin Doran.
 

The Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran warned that those voting Yes in the Eighth Amendment referendum on abortion had committed "a sin" and should consider going to confession.

He created a stir on RTÉ radio when he said that if a practising Catholic "voted Yes, knowing and intending that abortion would be the outcome, then they should consider coming to confession, where you would be received with the same compassion that is shown to any other penitent".

The response to his intervention was less one of anger, and more one of amusement.

Such was the loss of moral authority of the Church that listening to Bishop Doran (pictured), younger listeners might have wondered if they had found a long lost 26th episode of Father Ted.

Bishop Doran had been among the most vociferous churchmen campaigning against the removal of the Eighth Amendment. The outspoken Dubliner had warned that if abortion laws were loosened, similar arguments would be used to "justify ending the lives of frail elderly people and people with significant disability". KB

 

22 Kim Jong-Un steps on to the diplomatic stage

It's been a very big year for North Korea's enigmatic "Supreme Leader", who has absolute control over the lives of 25 million people.

It started off unevenly. In 2017, Kim had called US President Donald Trump a "dotard" and threatened the destruction of South Korea and yet 2018 saw a softening stance between North and South Korea. North Korea participated in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and then, in April, Kim travelled south and shook hands with the Prime Minister of South Korea, Moon Jae-in.

It was the first time a North Korean leader had set foot in South Korea since 1953. In June, Kim Jong-un and Trump met for a summit in Singapore, in the first-ever talks held between a North Korean leader and a sitting US president, to discuss his country's nuclear programme.

Forbes magazine has this year ranked Kim as the 36th most powerful person in the world, his ranking reflecting that it was unclear how much power he shared with military leaders. CO'M

 

23 Bono lost for lyrics

On September 1, the unthinkable happened for the U2 frontman. The band were performing at Berlin's Mercedes-Benz Arena when he lost his voice. The show was only a handful of songs old, but the quartet were forced to stop playing. For a singer, loss of his/her most precious instrument is the stuff of nightmares, but happily for Bono the rest of the tour - which included four homecoming shows at Dublin's 3Arena - could continue without any outward problems. Then, on the final date of the Experience + Innocence tour - during their rescheduled Berlin date - Bono hinted that the band would be going "away". There was much conjecture about what he was saying: was this really the end of the band or was it a case that they would be taking time out to reinvent themselves again?

It was a strong year for Irish music with singer-songwriters like Lisa O'Neill and Conor O'Brien's Villagers delivering exceptional albums and rising talents like Dermot Kennedy and RuthAnne Cunningham making a name for themselves overseas.

But diminishing sales mean a tough station for many musicians. Choice Music Prize winners Ships announced that they would have to leave Dublin in order to pay the rent - a sentiment also echoed in July by David Kitt. JM

 

24 Plain-speaking Dragon is Election runner-up

At the start of the year, Peter Casey was hardly a household name. The businessman from Derry was one of the dragons on Dragons' Den, but beyond that, he had not achieved much fame.

All that changed during the presidential election campaign in October, when he came from nowhere as a candidate to get the first preferences of almost one in four voters.

Casey almost stumbled on a cause that lit up his campaign, and ultimately may have led to his surge in the polls.

Before he raised the controversy over reports of a group of Travellers turning down houses near Thurles, Co Tipperary, he was hovering at around 2pc in the polls.

But by polling day nine days later, his support had surged to 23pc.

His anti-Traveller message raised his profile, and some may also have been attracted by his cheeky chappy persona - and his tendency to avoid polished political messages.

His supporters welcomed his disregard for political correctness, while his critics saw him as a harbinger of a malignant strain of Trump-type right-wing populism. Casey showed some of Trump's knockabout approach when he highlighted the dog care bills of President Higgins and his use of the Government jet to get to Northern Ireland. KB

 

25 Auf Wiedersehen, pet for Angela Merkel

Germany's chancellor - a woman once dubbed the Empress of Europe - has long seemed indestructible in her position at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. But Angela Merkel announced in October that she would not contest the leadership of her own party - she was duly replaced in December by CDU secretary general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - and said that this term as chancellor - her fourth - would also be her last.

Her term runs out in 2021.

Merkel's troubles started amid a backlash over her globally much-admired open-door refugee policy. Her stridency in this regard earned her accolades; she was Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2015. But at home, initial optimism gave way to resentment and protests and - ultimately - led to gains for nationalist politicians. In the September 2017 election, the far-right AfD party became the third largest political force in Germany. The writing was on the wall for Merkel. CO'M

 

26 Johnny Sexton's on fire

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Johnny Sexton.
 

In November, one of the poster boys of Irish rugby was named World Player of the Year. Sexton was the first from this country to receive that accolade since Keith Woods was the inaugural winner in 2001 and had he not been given the accolade, there would have been widespread shock among devotees of the oval-ball game.

Ever since his last-gasp drop-goal against France in Ireland put the country on course for only its third every Grand Slam, Sexton can do no wrong. And he was hugely instrumental in helping Leinster win the Champions Cup and Pro14 double.

In truth, Sexton is but one of a large cast of players who helped elevate Irish rugby to uncharted heights this year. Officially ranked second in the world, Ireland beat the world's best - New Zealand - in an Aviva Stadium thriller. It was our second victory over the All Blacks in three years and the first ever by the national side at home.

Much of transformation in Irish rugby has been contributed to head coach Joe Schmidt. Thanks to his stewardship of a golden generation of players, Ireland will be among the favourites to win next year's World Cup. He is set to retire from coaching after that tournament in Japan. JM

 

27 Joanna Saw a big freeze and a heatwave

It is always a sign of tumultuous weather events when meteorologists are in the spotlight and this year, Joanna Donnelly forecast conditions that veered wildly between hot and cold.

Two big events dominated the weather. Storm Emma brought blizzard conditions, and in many areas the height of the snowdrifts could be measured in metres.

The country came to a standstill as meteorologists issued a status red warning.

Donnelly spelled it out early in the last week of February : "Precipitation at the north of the storm will be met with the Siberian winds sweeping in from the east - and this will create snow."

A freezing early spring was followed by a long, hot summer. By late June, motorists in their cars could hardly believe what they were seeing as the temperature gauges on dashboards soared over 32°C.

Hosepipe bans were introduced across the country in order to prevent water shortages during an extended dry spell as farmers feared for their crops and their cattle.

With the country basking in an "Azores high", Donnelly told Review: "The weather has been good for nearly all of May and June, apart from Storm Hector giving us a kick up the butt. At the same time, farmers have a lot less rainfall than they could do with." KB

 

28 Has Arlene thrown away DUP's advantage?

The DUP leader Arlene Foster seemed to be in a powerful position with her party holding the balance of power in Westminster through its confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservative Party.

But towards the end of the year, the deal with UK prime minister Theresa May appeared to be in shreds as the British government advocated a Brexit withdrawal agreement with a backstop that threatened to give Northern Ireland different customs rules to the rest of the UK.

One has to wonder how Foster and her party got themselves into this position. If they had pushed for a soft Brexit, with the UK still in the customs union and single market, there would be no need for what the DUP believes is "a border down the Irish Sea".

Pushed by hardliners such as Sammy Wilson, Foster now leads a party out of step with majority opinion in Northern Ireland, and facing stern criticism from farmers and business interests who fear the effects of a hard Brexit on the economy,

She has also presided over political stagnation in the North, with little meaningful attempt to restore a power-sharing executive. KB

 

29 Mark Zuckerberg bristles under Mr Big tag

2018 was the year of the privacy backlash against companies like the social media giant Facebook. Founder Mark Zuckerberg found himself apologising repeatedly for his increasingly giant company's failings, which included a massive security breach and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, in which it emerged Facebook users had been accessed by a political ad-targeting firm.

The controversies, combined with missed growth targets, sent Facebook's share price spiralling down in the latter half of the year.

As the year's end approached, Zuckerberg appeared to tire of apologies.

Faced with allegations in a New York Times investigation that, among many other things, Facebook had hired a PR firm to undermine its rivals and critics. Zuckerberg was reported to have told employees the story was "bullshit". He also declared he had no intention of stepping down as Facebook's chief executive.

However, Facebook admitted it had asked Definers Public Affairs to look into billionaire George Soros' funding activities after Soros called the social network a "menace to society" in early 2018.

The idea was to show that the movement, Freedom from Facebook - a campaign to curb the power of the social media giant - "was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement".

As of the third quarter of 2018, Facebook had 2.27 billion users across the world. CO'M

 

30 An ugly finale to Conor's annus horribilis

He may be one of the wealthiest sports people Ireland has ever produced, but the Dublin mixed martial arts fighter doesn't have to brave the octagon that much anymore. Perhaps it's just as well. Following last year's high-profile defeat to boxer Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor also lost his UFC comeback fight in October.

After goading opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov, McGregor came off second best in a contest that descended into a free-for-all at end. And viral footage from Las Vegas showed some of his Irish supporters fighting in the arena afterwards.

It was an ugly finale to something of an annus horribilis for the 'Notorious'. He lived up to his stage name by attacking some of Nurmagomedov's entourage in New York. Footage of McGregor smashing the window of a bus went viral and he found himself in court soon after.

The year ended on a bleak note for the fighter when he was banned for driving for six months by Naas District Court. He had been caught doing 150km in a 100km zone and had failed to pay the resulting fine. He's at a crossroads now - even if he's not behind the wheel of a car. JM

 

31 Game changer for Seán McLoughlin

It's been a year of big wins for YouTubers - and close to the very top of his game is Athlone's McLoughlin (pictured), named by Forbes magazine as the eighth richest YouTube star of the year with reported earnings of $16m from June 2017 to June 2018.

"Foulmouthed, energetic Seán McLoughlin is the most popular YouTuber in Ireland thanks to his colourful video-game commentary," Forbes said.

"A few bad words haven't kept him from going mainstream."

In fact, McLoughlin has worked on a series for Disney and is developing exclusive content for live-streaming platform Twitch as part of a deal with Disney Digital Network.

McLoughlin, whose online name is JackSepticEye, has 20 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. And he's 28 - and only started on YouTube in 2012.

Mind you, if you find that impressive, you might consider that the Forbes list is topped by Ryan ToysReview, a seven-year-old who reviews toys for his 17 million followers and who has his own line of collectibles at Walmart. CO'M

 

32 Jastine Valdez murdered on a bright May evening

Jastine Valdez could have been anybody's sister, anybody's daughter walking along a busy road on a bright May evening - when she was bundled into a car, and later murdered by Mark Hennessy.

It was the sheer normality of the scene until that fateful moment in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow - and the random nature of the attack on the 24-year-old Filipina student - that prompted understandable fear across the country.

How could a woman be grabbed in broad daylight - and killed within a short time afterwards on the edge of the Dublin Mountains - after stepping off a bus as she returned home?

Jastine was an only child and had moved to Ireland from the Philippines. She was a student at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, where she studied accountancy, and seemed to have a bright future ahead of her.

Her killer, a 40-year-old father-of-two who lived in Bray, was shot and killed by a garda in an industrial estate at Cherrywood, Dublin the day after the murder.

The parents of Ms Valdez said they did not blame Ireland for what had happened.

"We are not angry at Ireland for what happened, for whatever was going on in his (Hennessy) mind. Ireland is not to blame, Ireland has been good to us," her mother Tess told RTÉ radio.

"We will always feel indebtedness for all the kindness." KB

 

33 Rugby trial lends new fire to consent debate

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Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Laganside court on March 5, 2018. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Some court cases capture the imagination like few others can and what became known as the ‘Belfast Rugby Rape Trial’ dominated the headlines in the way that none have done since architect Graham Dwyer was convicted of the murder of Elaine O’Hara in 2015.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, both  former Ireland international rugby players, were in the dock. They were accused of raping a woman during a party at Jackson’s home in 2016. One of their friends, Blane McIlroy, was accused of exposure, while a fourth, Rory Harrison, was accused of perverting the course of justice.

The trial attracted enormous attention and ran for nine weeks. In the end, each of the four was acquitted of all charges, but both Jackson and Olding paid a heavy price. Their contracts with Ulster were terminated on the grounds that they had brought the game into disrepute following the emergence of unsavoury WhatsApp conversations. 

Jackson and Olding eventually found clubs in France, but the prospect of either wearing the Irish jersey again is unlikely. The IRFU responded by introducing a code of conduct to try and stamp out the culture of toxic masculinity that sometimes rears its head in the game.

Differences between how rape is reported on either side of the Border were highlighted after the trial. Had the court case taken place in the Republic, all four of the accused would have been granted anonymity — as would the alleged victim. Her identity was revealed online. 

After the acquittals, there were several on-street protests, #ibelieveher hashtags appeared on social media and banners bearing the legend ‘not my captain’ appeared at rugby matches — a response by the decision of Ireland’s captain Rory Best to attend the trial, seemingly in support of Jackson, his Ulster teammate. 

‘Consent’ was a word on the lips of many in 2018 and there was widespread outrage in November when the female lawyer representing the accused at a rape trial in Cork told jurors that they should take into account the underwear the 17-year-old complainant wore, adding: “She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

Protests ensued. JM

 

34 Philip Green redefines banter

You know you are in trouble if - although you are a party-friendly billionaire with a fondness for the entertainment sector - Simon Cowell won't be your friend.

But such was the fate of Philip Green, the yacht-hopping Topshop owner who was revealed in 2018 to be the subject of multiple sexual harassment and bullying allegations. Cowell said he had dropped Green (and the girl band Little Mix) "to clear toxic people from his business".

Specifically, he wanted to buy Green out of his Syco Entertainment business, after decades of close friendship.

Green is not new to controversy. His reputation took a serious hit with the collapse of the retailer British Home Stores in 2016 which left a £571m hole in the company's pension pot.

The latest difficulties began when the Daily Telegraph published a front page story about an unnamed businessman who, it reported, had used non-disclosure agreements and paid out "substantial sums" to silence former employees over sexual harassment, racial abuse, bullying and intimidation allegations. The Telegraph was tied by an injunction, but former Labour MP Peter Hain subsequently identified him in the House of Lords. Jane Shepherdson, the former brand director at Topshop, later went on record to describe him as a bully.

Green has denied wrongdoing and said he had only engaged in "banter" with his staff. CO'M

 

35 Katie Taylor lets her guard down

After the disappointments of the Rio Olympics, the country's most famous sports women would have been excused for walking away from the ring. But the Bray boxer is made of very stern stuff and she was determined to make it in the professional ranks. This year, she showed how good a fighter she is and her pro career stats are impeccable: 11 fights, 11 wins.

We also got an insight into the private life of this most guarded of celebrities thanks to the feature-length documentary film, Katie. She emerged as unstintingly dedicated to her craft, but the rift with her father and former coach, Pete, really took its toll.

Pete Taylor was in the headlines himself for very sobering reasons in 2018. There was a shooting incident at Bray Boxing Club in June in which an innocent man, Bobby Messett, was shot dead. The gunman had sought to kill Taylor, but had mistaken Messett for him. Taylor and another innocent man, Ian Britton, were also injured in the attack. Gerard Cervi was later charged with the murder.

Shaken by the event, Pete Taylor and his partner Karen Brown relocated to the UK over the summer. JM

 

36 Barry Keoghan shows star appeal

After first coming to our attention as a teen 'helper' with a notorious gang in Love/Hate, the Dubliner's acting career has gone from strength to strength. He won a Best Actor gong at the Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTAs) this year for his part in the acclaimed art-house film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. He was also appeared in one of the best reviewed and most popular Irish films of the year, Black '47, a thriller set during the Great Famine. And he was widely praised for his performance in the US independent film, American Animals. Another young Dublin actor to consolidate on her remarkable talent this year was Seána Kerslake. There was a standout performance in the gritty Dublin Oldschool and she reprised her role in RTÉ comedy-drama Can't Cope, Won't Cope, which returned for a second season.

Sarah Greene also impressed this year when she played the title part in Rosie, a movie that shone a light on the country's housing crisis and the damage not having a home can have, especially on children. It was a reminder that great art can hold a mirror up to society - and Rosie painted a very bleak picture of the Ireland of 2018. JM

37 Archbishop fumes after Josepha helps out at Mass

In June, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan stepped up to lead prayers at her local parish church in Mount Merrion, Dublin after a priest failed to show up. And she quickly found herself at the centre of controversy over the role of women in the church.

The minister addressed the congregation from the altar, performing some elements of a normal Mass.

She did not read the Gospel or perform the consecration of the bread and wine, as these can only be carried out by a priest.

Madigan, who led Fine Gael's campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment, told the Irish Independent it was "sad reflection of the times we live" that there are so few priests.

She later said that she hoped to raise the place of women in the Church with Pope Francis when he visited Ireland in August.

This prompted a furious response from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who claimed her comments had caused distress to parishioners in Mount Merrion

"There is no shortage of priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin for the celebration of Sunday Mass," he said.

"It is regrettable that Minister Madigan used this occasion to push a particular agenda." KB

 

38 The sad demise of Jamal Khashoggi

On October 2, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to finalise the documents needed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

He never came back out.

Three weeks later, after many denials, the Saudi government confirmed that he was dead. He had died, it said, after an altercation in the consulate. The regime insisted that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no prior knowledge of Khashoggi's killing. Eleven people were indicted for the crime.

Khashoggi was a former Saudi royal insider who had become a critic of the regime of the crown prince. He was an opinion writer for the Washington Post newspaper, which published a final posthumous comment piece from him on October 17, calling for a free press in the Arab world. He had left Saudi Arabia for the US in the summer of 2017 in self-imposed exile.

Khashoggi's killing - of which an audio tape was made - garnered worldwide attention with many political leaders calling for a full investigation of the death. Turkish officials consistently accused the Saudis of brutally killing Khashoggi in a planned attack.

His body has yet to be recovered so the cause of his death remains unconfirmed. CO'M

 

39 Cardi B dominates hip-hop world

Hip-hop has been the world's most popular genre for some time now and most of its leading exponents have been men. That changed this year thanks to a new breed of female rappers, led by Cardi B. The motormouth Brooklyn native released one of the biggest-selling debut albums in Invasion of Privacy. Three of her songs topped the US singles chart making her the first female hip-hop musician to achieve this distinction. If Cardi B was acclaimed for her brand of no-nonsense rap, the genre's previous king, Kanye West, was making enemies and annoying people wherever he went. Many have found his unadulterated praise for Donald Trump to be in extremely poor taste, especially when one considers that he had been so scathing of previous Republican US president George W Bush.

The best-selling album of 2018 was not from a rapper, or an R&B superstar like Drake, or a comparative newcomer such as George Ezra, who enjoyed huge popularity with Staying at Tamara's, but from the film musical, The Greatest Showman. The Hugh Jackman-starring blockbuster's soundtrack sold far more than its competitors in both Britain and the US this year. Jackman will perform at Dublin's 3Arena in May. JM

 

40 Outsider vows to revolutionise force

Drew Harris became the first officer of a police force outside the jurisdiction to take over the top job in the gardaí.

The former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable was sworn in as Garda Commissioner at a most challenging time for law enforcement in the country.

The force has been mired in controversy over the past half decade over its handling of issues raised by Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Harris immediately sought to quell concerns about his links to MI5 and British intelligence units."There has been some talk about my team. An Garda Síochána is now my team," he said. Responding to the Charleton report in the weeks after his appointment, he said he wanted a "responsive" policing service, one that was held to account and that people had trust and faith in.

He said gardaí had a duty to the public which came ahead of any loyalty to the force. KB

 

41 The shine comes off the Markle sparkle

Royal fans desperate for some Hollywood-infused royal glamour can hail a satisfying year with the May wedding of Prince Harry to his gorgeous American wife, Meghan Markle.

The event, attended by a modest 600 people, attracted 18 million TV viewers in Britain and another 29 million in the US.

And yet it all turned a little sour. At 37, and with a successful acting career behind her, Meghan was a far remove from the classic royal bride - a fact that initially seemed to add to her appeal but, by year-end, had led to a snippier approach from commentators, as the Daily Mail spearheaded a narrative around a rift between the American newbie and her more conventionally dutiful sister-in-law Kate Middleton.

With a royal baby due in the spring, Meghan is a dead cert to top the jollier end of the news agenda in 2019. The child will be a first for the house of Windsor, a royal with American, mixed-race heritage. And he or she will be seventh in line to the throne. CO'M

 

42 Kylian Mbappé scores as World CUp star

His name may have been familiar to football fans, but the French teenager was on the lips of even the most casual observer of the beautiful game thanks to his exploits in the World Cup. France won the tournament, beating surprise finalists Croatia, and striker, who turned 20 this week, was at the heart of everything. Ireland failed to reach the World Cup, hosted in Russia for the first time, but there was a great deal to enjoy during a long, hot summer of football. If Gareth Southgate's likeable England side did better than expected and perennial heavyweights Germany far worse than anyone could have imagined, the greatest shock of all was how smoothly and trouble-free the tournament unfolded.

There had been considerable fears that Russia's hooligan element would cause mayhem - as they did during the Euros in France two years ago - but the games passed without incident and there were numerous feel-good stories about how welcomed overseas fans felt. Putin showed up for the opening match but appeared to let the football do the talking after that. JM

 

43 Denis 'Four Dinners' Naughten quits

The Independent TD Denis Naughten resigned from the Cabinet in October over a series of dinners with US businessman David McCourt.

The minister quit when details emerged of meetings with McCourt, who is leading the sole remaining bid for a contract to roll out high-speed broadband to more than 500,000 homes across the country.

Naughten told the Dáil it was clear the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar did not have confidence in him and he had been left in an "impossible stark position" that a politician never wanted to find themselves in.

"If I was a cynic, which I'm not, the outcome is about polls rather than telecoms poles, it's more about optics than fibre optics.''

The former minister had been due to answer questions from the opposition over his dealings with McCourt.

The resignation cast doubt on the roll-out of the Government's troubled and long-delayed National Broadband Plan.

However, a review by independent assessor Peter Smyth said it was satisfied that neither the former communications minister nor McCourt influenced the tender process after it emerged the pair had held the meetings. KB

 

44 Nora Twomey hits mark with Jolie link-up

Ireland's animation industry has been in an especially good place over the past number of years, and much of the international reputation it enjoys has been driven by Kilkenny's Cartoon Saloon, and its creative director Nora Twomey.

The firm's latest feature film, The Breadwinner, was critically acclaimed and attracted the attention of the Academy Awards. It was the second time that Twomey earned an Oscar nomination and although she didn't win for Best Animation Feature, the exposure will have helped ensure the future projects get Hollywood backing. A-lister Angelina Jolie was one of the producers of The Breadwinner. It was a year in which some of the country's most creative people got the recognition they deserve. Two of Dublin's leading up-and-coming playwrights, Margaret Perry and Deirdre Kinahan, were praised widely for, respectively, Porcelain and Rathmines Road. The former play was inspired by the notorious murder of Bridget Cleary in 1895 while the latter centred on a victim of sexual assault who encountered her rapist years later.

And the Dublin-based photographer Ruth Medjber - well-known for her rock star imagery - held a well-received exhibition of 10 years of her work in November. JM

 

45 Ed Sheeran pulls in the mega-crowds

There was much conjecture about how many people showed up for Pope Francis's Phoenix Park Mass - in the end, the Office of Public Works estimated that just under 152,000 attended.

There was no disputing the fact that a carrot-mopped singer of Irish extraction was a more popular draw than the Pontiff in the Ireland of 2018. Ed Sheeran played to 400,000 paying punters north and south - including three shows at Phoenix Park - and there was a clamour for him to play more shows.

None of the world's superstars could hold a candle to Sheeran when it came to pulling in the punters, including Taylor Swift who played a pair of far-from-sold-out shows at Croke Park.

The Rolling Stones were also in Croke Park this summer and they played a blinder. It helps that their back catalogue is among the most iconic in all of rock, but Jagger, Richards & Co turned back the clock in remarkable fashion.

And another old-timer, Billy Joel, wowed them in June at Dublin's other major stadium, the Aviva. JM

 

46 Michel Barnier greets Brexit secretary #3

"I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job. Michel is a skilled negotiator with rich experience in major policy areas relevant to the negotiations."

So said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2016 as he announced Michel Barnier as "European Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union", aka the EU's main man on Brexit. The British government reacted to the news of his appointment without even mentioning his name, saying it looked forward to working with "representatives" from the EU.

As internal market commissioner, Barnier had oversight of the City of London after the 2008 financial crisis and pushed through unpopular reforms.

Sober, serious and meticulous, by age 22, Barnier had won a local French election. By 27, he was the youngest member of the French parliament. He organised the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in the French Alps. By his mid-40s, he had served as environment minister and EU affairs minister.

From the start of talks, Barnier made it clear that the European Commission needed more openness from Britain. "We need you to take positions on all separation issues," Barnier told an early briefing. "This is necessary to make sufficient progress. We must start negotiating seriously."

Barnier is now dealing with his third Brexit Secretary from Britain in Stephen Barclay who replaced Dominic Raab, who followed David Davis. So far Barclay's tenure has been notable for an unfortunate gaffe in the Commons when he incorrectly said Britain was due to exit the EU on March 31, 2019. It's actually two days before then. CO'M

 

47 Robin Wright takes on 'house of cards' solo - and wins

Several of Hollywood's leading men saw their careers plummet in the wake of the #MeToo movement, none more so than Kevin Spacey after being accused of sexual assault. His part in Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World - released at the start of the year - was removed completely (Scott's original choice, Christopher Plummer was rushed in to play the J Paul Getty role in a hasty reshoot).

Spacey was also axed from Netflix's House of Cards. His role was written out - it's suggested that he died of a heart attack, or was possibly murdered - and the action centred on his wife Carrie Underwood, now US President, and played with brio by Robin Wright. Over the course of the show's development, Wright was hailed for the strength of her performances and she became the first to win best actress at the Golden Globes for a non-terrestrial TV show.

House of Cards' sixth season may not have been quite as well received as before, but Netflix seemed to have a strong year with new offerings like The Haunting of Hill House and a new season of Ozark. JM

 

48 Judge praises ‘fortitude’ of Maurice McCabe

He exposed garda malpractice, and found himself the victim of unfounded smears. The  whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe was naturally relieved when the Disclosures Tribunal report by Mr Justice Peter Charleton gave him a resounding endorsement.

The tribunal was damning about the former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and former garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor, suggesting that they had a plan to spread a historic and unfounded sexual abuse allegation about him.

The judge said McCabe “was repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer”.

In the report, Justice Charleton said Sgt McCabe was “a genuine person who at all times has had the interests of the people of Ireland uppermost in his mind”.

The judge said Sgt McCabe had “done the State considerable service” in bringing matters within the force to the attention of the wider public.  These included the scandal of penalty points being wiped out and other cases of garda incompetence

“He has done so not out of a desire to inflate his public profile, but out of a legitimate drive to ensure that the national police force serves the people through hard work and diligence,” the judge said. Charleton described McCabe as an officer of “exemplary character” and “admirable fortitude”.

Sgt McCabe announced soon after the publication of the report that he was retiring from the force. Now, at last, after such a positive vindication,  the garda officer can get on with his life. KB

 

49 Bolsonaro and the rise of Brazil's right

Does the world need a "Trump of the Tropics"? Enough of Brazil's electorate appear to think so since they picked Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain and a fan of the country's former dictatorship, as the victor in a race for the presidency.

Bolsonaro is known for having insulted women and homosexuals and for attacking political correctness. But he has been voted in as the kind of outsider many believe is needed to sort out crime and challenge the establishment. Brazil is currently emerging from deep recession that has left it with a 12pc unemployment rate. Crime is a growing issue - last year, homicides rose to a record high figure of 63,880.

Bolsonaro first entered politics by championing the interests of the military. He looked back to the era of military dictatorship in Brazil, in which thousands of people were imprisoned and tortured, as a "glorious period". His proclamations have unnerved many. "I'd prefer [to see] a son of mine to die in an accident than [to be] a homosexual," he told Playboy magazine in a 2011 interview. In 2016, he sparked outrage by remarking that a fellow politician was not worth raping because he thought she was "very ugly" and not his "type".

Bolsonaro has dismissed the criticism of these comments as "political correctness". He will assume office on 1 January. CO'M

 

50 Lisa McGee puts Derry on comedy map

Creating a comedy show that's different to anything that's gone before - and is laugh-out-loud funny - is no easy task but Lisa McGee managed it with Derry Girls. Centred around a bunch of late teen girls from early 1990s Derry - McGee's hometown - it was a big hit for Channel 4 and featured some of the finest young acting talent from all parts of this island.

McGee wasn't the only Irish woman making them laugh in small screen land: Sharon Horgan consolidated her reputation as one of our finest screenwriters with the second season of Divorce, the popular US comedy drama starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

And Amy Huberman showed a fine comedic touch on Finding Joy, one of RTÉ's biggest autumn hits. It certainly marked an improvement on that other Huberman vehicle, the glossy but shallow Striking Out.

The national broadcaster's most significant drama was Taken Down, a crime series with a contemporary twist that was written by Love/Hate creator Stuart Carolan.

And Virgin Media TV - rebranded from TV3 in September - got in on the drama act, too with Blood, although its soap Red Rock was conspicuous by its absence. JM

 

51 The Spy, the daughter and the nerve agent

In March, former Russian military intelligence official Sergei Skripal was in his adopted hometown of Salisbury in England with his daughter Yulia, who was visiting from Moscow. Both fell gravely ill on a park bench, ending up in critical condition in the local hospital. Investigations showed they had been poisoned by a nerve agent. A detective sent to Skripal's house to investigate also fell seriously ill. All survived.

Days later the British government identified the nerve agent used in the attack as the Russian-developed Novichok and demanded an explanation from the Russian government. Prime minister Theresa May declared that Russia was responsible for the incident and announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. Russia has denied any involvement.

Police said thousands of people could have been killed by the amount of nerve agent used to poison the Skripals. The agent is believed to have been smuggled in a fake perfume bottle which was then dumped in Salisbury.

Months later a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after applying its contents to her wrists. CO'M

 

52 May day, may day

You have to hand one thing to Theresa May, she doesn’t give up easily. Against near-impossible odds, and despite repeated humiliations, she has retained power and stuck by her Brexit means Brexit mantra — if only just.

The fact that Britain’s prime minister is prone to mortifying gaffes hasn’t helped matters; the fact that she got trapped in a car while on her way to meet Angela Merkel earlier this month was typical. And yet May has her charms; she gamely broke into a dance at the last Tory party conference, showing she was in on the snippy jokes that had followed her less than fluid efforts to sway her hips on a visit to Africa.

The Tory leader’s year has been largely taken up by a more desperate dance as she vainly tried to find a formula on Britain’s exit from Europe that would satisfy the powers that be in Brussels, avoid destabilising the North and also appease the many and varied doubters in her own parliament, not to mention her own party.

The 585-page Brexit document that she eventually brought home from Brussels found favour with practically no-one.

Soon, the prospect of an ignominious mid-December defeat for her Brexit plan loomed in the House of Commons.

May has bought some time by delaying the vote to January and she has also survived a confidence vote, but her tenure has never seemed more tenuous.

Just three months now remain for Britain to organise its departure from the European Union and May remains stymied by divisions in parliament and in her own party as to how best to proceed.

This past week saw fresh calls for another referendum on Brexit — the option that was once regarded as the preserve of a grassroots fringe, but that is apparently seen by a growing number of parliamentarians as the only way to solve the present impasse at Westminster.

As 2019 looms amid heightened plans for a no-deal Brexit, May’s leadership — and her ability to deliver a workable Brexit — remain in serious question. CO’M

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