Tuesday 22 October 2019

Ivan Yates: 'Vicky Phelan and Maurice McCabe win my 2018 awards'

Vicky Phelan. Photos: Frank McGrath
Vicky Phelan. Photos: Frank McGrath
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

No year can be complete without revealing my unique Ivano Awards for 2018. As a prelude to introducing the winners, a little context to the year that was...

It proved to be another year of resurgence for Ireland Inc, despite losing six places on the global competitiveness league table (down from 6th to 12th out of the top 63).

We were constrained by our failure to build enough houses. Britain's Brexit convulsions also had a profound impact. All we know now is Ireland will remain in a different, more difficult EU.

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We saw significant social change. As a backbench TD in 1983, I couldn't have envisioned a 2:1 referendum result to legalise abortion. The most potent modernising force here today is feminism, an irresistible, irreversible change. Perhaps we can allow a little credit perhaps to fathers with daughters who support these fundamental shifts.

Politically, it was a year of inertia. Leo Varadkar has taken advantage of uncontested scrums and emerging, after 18 months in the top job, as one steely negotiator - while not charismatic, thoroughly ruthless and professional. His control of his party is unrivalled by any other leader while Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald and Brendan Howlin all have had a bumpy year.

We had a drab presidential election, with a predictable winner, and the big story was the 24pc support hoovered up by the enigmatic Peter Casey.

But to the awards....

Woman of the year - Vicky Phelan: The scandal of the year was the cervical cancer screening failures. Outsourced foreign laboratories failed to detect cancerous cells repeatedly. This meant women were unaware of terminal illness until it was too late. The full truth still hasn't been established, let alone the apportion of culpability. The promised structural compensation for the 221 women remains to be effected. But for the fortitude, eloquence and courage Vicky and her legal representatives displayed, this tragedy may not have come to the fore.

Man of the year - Sgt Maurice McCabe: It was Katie Hannon's television programmes which gave contemporaneous camera insights, rather than the Charleton Tribunal, that told the public how Sgt McCabe was betrayed. A weaker person would have buckled under the onslaught.

He's been thoroughly vindicated as the whistleblower who exposed the "who you know" culture of maladministration of penalty points and unacceptable standards of policing. It would be wrong to think fundamental reform of An Garda Síochána or the Justice Department is a given.

Worst Minister of the year - Shane Ross: The opportunity to transform our transport infrastructure in the context of the National Development Plan 2018-2027 with €116bn of overall of investment has been missed because we have the worst absentee, indifferent, indolent, self-indulgent Transport Minister ever. He's totally preoccupied not with his brief, but with petty, parochial constituency matters.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy deserves runner-up award. The housing crisis dominates the economic and social agendas. Homelessness, unaffordable rents and unattainable new homes or mortgages continue to blight a generation. Consequently, critical jobs aren't being filled; emigrants aren't returning.

Murphy's abject failure to cut through the rigidity of planning guidelines or to even understand the practical viability problems in the construction industry is appalling.

Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe will pay a heavy price for not confronting systemic problems inside the civil service of the Custom House.

The housing crisis is a political failure of authority, policy and regulation.

Sportsperson of the year - Jim Gavin: Jonny Sexton and Joe Schmidt have received so many accolades at home and abroad for Ireland's incredible run of Six Nations and international match success, I fear they may be a no-show for the Ivanos ceremony. But it was ecstasy at every turn this year for my two favourite teams - Leinster Rugby and Manchester City. Both are unbelievably professionally run and managed, on and off the pitch.

Yet the award must go to Gavin, despite his distrust of the media, for his unsurpassed attention to detail in maintaining the highest standards in all competitions.

Retiree of the year - George Hook: It's fashionable to deride this Cork curmudgeon, just retired from NewsTalk radio. A national conversation that does not have sufficient spectrum to tolerate contrarian views is worthless.

George spent the last 16 years working in an initially Dublin-only, start-up station. He became a colourful household name, happy to embrace controversy - a rarity in the media. Along with Brent Pope and Tom McGurk, he entertained and regaled Ireland's TV rugby audiences. Honourable mention must also go to MEP Brian Hayes, whose departure is a net loss for both FG and the body politic.

Twit of the year - Conor McGregor: For the third year in a row, McGregor eclipsed all other dire contenders. His multiple court appearances and convictions for various offences confirm his outrageous, irresponsible conduct.

Defeat in the MMA ring compounded a self-imploding disastrous year. He's now earned this perpetual trophy and lifetime Twit Fellowship by combusting from dubious role model to twit extraordinaire.

Event of the year - the Papal visit: OK, I get that it's not sexy to give any credit to the Catholic Church. But the visit of Pope Francis rated ahead of the frippery of Harry and Megan's glamfest in the capital. Rain conspired to make the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park something of a damp squib. But the Croker concert was classy, even cool.

It may be too much to hope the Vatican and global hierarchy eradicate clerical sex abuse, but the visit provided us with a context for courageous words from Mary McAleese and Marie Collins. Anyway, I like all that ritual, traditional ceremonial pomp as pure popcorn entertainment.

Hard luck to those who didn't make the Ivano's grade. There's always 2019.

Happiest of New Years.

Irish Independent

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