Saturday 24 August 2019

What made the headlines? The 16 stories that defined 2016

Shocking: A garda cordon outside the Regency Hotel in Dublin after one man died and two others were injured following a shooting incident at the hotel last February
Shocking: A garda cordon outside the Regency Hotel in Dublin after one man died and two others were injured following a shooting incident at the hotel last February
Amanda Mellet from Michigan USA and her husband James Burke from Kilkenny at the Termination for Medical Reasons Press Conference at Buswells Hotel . Pic Steve Humphreys 13th November 2013.
Silver lining: Annalise Murphy with her Rio Olympics medal
Robbie Brady during the FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium
Sadly missed: Anthony Foley passed away in October
Amanda Mellett Picture: Steve Humphreys
Khalid Kelly
Katie Taylor failed to medal in Rio
Lisa McInerney
Independent Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Tom Burke
Lucinda Creighton
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan
Sharon Horgan
Minister Simon Coveney
Brendan O’Connor
Davitt Walsh who rescued the baby from the sinking Audi at Buncrana Pier. (North West Newspix)
John Meagher

John Meagher

John Meagher looks back at some of the people and events that made the headlines.

1 Nóirín O’Sullivan

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan

The first-ever female Garda Commissioner lurched from one embarrassment to the next in 2016. She was repeatedly dogged by the fall-out from the whistleblower controversy and, in October, had to contend with revelations that she had spent more than €14,000 on foreign trips, hotels, meals and other expenses in her first two years in the job. The Dubliner, who joined the force in 1981, was also criticised for attending a policing conference in San Diego at the time when the country was bracing itself for industrial action by rank-and-file and middle-ranking officers.

 2  Lucinda Creighton

Lucinda Creighton

The former TD was once seen by many as a future leader of Fine Gael. The Mayo woman's intellect, drive and political nous marked her out from the pack. When she quit Fine Gael, claiming it was an undemocratic party, she soon set about forming a new force in Irish politics.

Renua promised to make an impact at the next election but the electorate weren't convinced and the party failed to deliver a single TD. Creighton lost her Dublin Bay South seat to Fine Gael's Kate O'Connell. "In politics," she said, "you take a risk and you have to deal with the consequences."

3  Anthony Foley

Sadly missed: Anthony Foley passed away in October

The sudden death of the Munster coach, one of the most decorated players in the history of the province, reverberated throughout the rugby world in October.

The 42-year-old Limerick native and ex-Ireland international was known as 'Axel' to his legion of supporters, and both Ireland and New Zealand played poignant tribute to his legacy before their fateful encounter in Chicago. In an era when professional sport is so frequently marred by greed and naked triumphalism, Foley's old-fashioned values of hard work, honest endeavour and pride of place shone brightly.

For true sports lovers, his loss was hard to take.

4  Simon Coveney

Minister Simon Coveney

Few topics obsessed us as much this year as the housing crisis. Spiralling rents, which exceeded Celtic Tiger levels, severe shortages in the 'for sale' stock and the reported rise in homelessness made for a bleak picture in a year in which Fine Gael's pre-election urge was to "keep the recovery going".

Finding himself tasked with alleviating the problem, Housing Minister Simon Coveney was both praised and condemned. First-time buyers were addressed in the Budget and the Central Bank relaxed its mortgage rules. And, in December, Coveney pushed through new rules on rent increases to help ease tenants' distress.

5 Davitt Walsh

Davitt Walsh who rescued the baby from the sinking Audi at Buncrana Pier. (North West Newspix)

It was a tragedy that captured the imagination like few others: in May, five members of a Derry family drowned when their car slid off the pier at Buncrana, Co Donegal.

But the youngest occupant, four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann McGrotty, survived thanks to the intervention of Davitt Walsh, who had been out for a stroll at the time. The Donegal native, an ex-professional footballer in the League of Ireland, had immediately jumped into the water when he saw the accident unfold and managed to save the infant from the rapidly submerging vehicle.

In a year in which heroes were needed more than most, his bravery stood out.

6  Lisa McInerney

Lisa McInerney

Irish fiction was in a good place in 2016 thanks to a new generation who appeared to win literary prizes for fun. Cork-based novelist Lisa McInerney won a handful of awards, including the coveted Baileys gong, for her debut The Glorious Heresies, while Sara Baume won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Spill Simmer Falter Wither.

Not to be outdone, Mike McCormack bagged the Goldsmiths Prize for experimental fiction for his one-sentence novel Solar Bones. McCormack was the third Irish writer to bag the prestigious award in four years - a previous winner, Eimear McBride, this year attracted glowing reviews for her second novel, The Lesser Bohemians.

7 The Regency Hotel shooting

Shocking: A garda cordon outside the Regency Hotel in Dublin after one man died and two others were injured following a shooting incident at the hotel last February

It sounded like a story-line straight out of Love/Hate: killers - some dressed as special branch gardaí, another in drag to look like a woman - entered the Regency Hotel in Dublin, walked into a crowded function room and opened fire, murdering gangland figure David Byrne.

The February shooting, during a daytime weigh-in for a boxing match, shocked the country and triggered a glut of killings in the city between the warring Kinahan and Hutch gangs that shows no sign of ending.


Gang warfare was rarely out of the news - only this month, the funeral took place of hated gangster Mark 'Guinea Pig' Desmond, who had been gunned down in a west Dublin park.

Twenty years on from the killing of Sunday Independent crime reporter Veronica Guerin, the country's gangland problem appears to be even more entrenched and difficult to police.

8 Katherine Zappone

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Independent Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Tom Burke

The changing political landscape was typified by the large number of independent candidates and those from non-traditional parties who were elected in February.

Seattle-born Zappone, previously a senator and the first openly lesbian member of the Oireachtas, found herself parachuted into Cabinet (to the role of Children's Minister) as Fine Gael set about forming a minority government.

Other independents were rarely off the news pages, including John Halligan, who threatened to leave the Government over an argument about Waterford Hospital, and Shane Ross, who found himself having to deal with both the Dublin Bus strike action and the fall-out from the Pat Hickey affair.

9 Annalise Murphy

Silver lining: Annalise Murphy with her Rio Olympics medal

Those magnificent O'Donovan brothers in their flying row-boats may have generated most of the feel-good press from the Rio Olympics, but there was sweet justice for our greatest sailor, too.

Annalise Murphy had come so close to medalling at the London Olympics in 2012, but finished just outside the medal table. Four years of persistent work later and the quietly spoken Dubliner was standing on the podium, a silver medal around her neck.

Her story may be enough to motivate Thomas Barr to his own glory in Tokyo in four years' time. The Waterford 400m hurdler smashed the Irish record in the final in Rio and finished fourth.

10 Clodagh Hawe

The phenomenon of 'murder-suicide' was thrown into sharp relief in September, when Cavan man Alan Hawe murdered his wife Clodagh and his three children in their home before taking his own life. There was widespread condemnation about some of the initial media reports, which highlighted Hawe's 'pillar of society' status.

The Women's Council of Ireland were among those who argued that, in such cases, the violence suffered by women is frequently forgotten about. In December, Clodagh's mother and sister started a Women's Aid fundraising campaign for women and children affected by domestic violence. One in five Irish women is thought to experience domestic abuse.

11 Sharon Horgan

Sharon Horgan

After delivering one of the most lauded comedy series on British television in 2015 (Catastrophe), the Meath comic, writer, actress and producer repeated the trick when her new series, Divorce, became a hit in the US. Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, it has already been commissioned for a second season.

Horgan is one of several high-profile Irish residents in Britain to enjoy an excellent 2016.

12 Khalid Kelly

Khalid Kelly

The horrors perpetrated by ISIS weren't far from the headlines this year, but Irish people could have been forgiven for thinking this country was divorced from such atrocities.

All that changed in November, when former Dublin nurse Terrence Kelly blew himself up in an apparent suicide mission in Iran.

The so-called 'Taliban Terry' had long been on the radar of police here and in the UK for his fundamentalist worldview, but his gruesome death still sent shockwaves through the security services. Kelly had become radicalised while serving a prison sentence for manufacturing alcohol when he worked in Saudi Arabia.

13 Robbie Brady

Robbie Brady during the FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium

If 2016 was seen by many as an especially bleak year, there were pockets of great joy, too. Robbie Brady had gone from the devastation of Premier League relegation to being one of the stars of Ireland's campaign at Euro 2016 in June.

His winning goal against Italy in Lille has taken its place among the great Irish sporting moments - as has that emotional embrace with his girlfriend in the crowd afterwards.

It placed high in a poll of the things that had made Irish people most happy this year. Ireland's rugby team putting the All Blacks to the sword in Chicago topped the poll.

14  Amanda Mellet

PL28501601Amanda (Read-Only).png
Amanda Mellett Picture: Steve Humphreys

Abortion rights dominated much of the discourse in 2016, and black sweatshirts emblazoned with the word Repeal became a common sight on the streets. The pro-rights lobby sought to highlight the large number of Irish women - estimated at 10 to 12 per day - who feel they have no option but to travel to the UK for terminations.

Among their number was Amanda Mellet, who had been told her pregnancy involved a fatal foetal abnormality. The UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Ireland's abortion law had violated her human rights in June and last month the Government offered her €30,000 in compensation.

15  Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor failed to medal in Rio

It was a decidedly mixed year for the Bray boxer. There was a rift with her father and coach Pete, although both parties remained tight-lipped on the reasons why, and then there was defeat in controversial circumstances at the Rio Olympics.

For someone who had put women's boxing on the map, it was a bitter pill to swallow. But Taylor's famed resilience was not broken in Brazil and she impressed during her first two fights as a pro boxer.

And Katie wasn't the only pugilist to fly the Tricolour this year - UFC kingpin and RTÉ Sports Personality of the Year winner Conor McGregor was impossible to ignore.

16 Brendan O’Connor

sl_Brendan O'Connor.jpg
Brendan O’Connor

The journalist and broadcaster must have feared for his RTÉ career when his Saturday chat-show was axed in order to make way for Ray D'Arcy, who had been poached from Today FM.

But while D'Arcy's show struggled, O'Connor returned with a lively mid-week current affairs programme, Cutting Edge, that managed to excite the critics and win over a sceptical audience on social media.

He was one of the winners in a TV landscape that saw UTV Ireland fizzle out - to be rebranded be3 from January 9 - while Pat Kenny was snapped up by TV3 for a current affairs show jointly presented with Colette Fitzpatrick.

Graham Norton's titular chat show went from strength to strength and his debut novel, Holding, has enjoyed near universal praise from the critics and was awarded the Irish Independent Popular Fiction prize at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

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