Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Goodbye 2013 – A review of the year

It’s always nice to look back at the year that has passed us. We always hope to learn something but, in reality, we rarely do. Still 2013 brought us some big news stories and here, for what it’s worth is my review of it.

2013 started out in the shadow of the murder of Garda Aidan Donohoe. It shocked a nation. For a while it made us step back from the all too easy position we often take in Ireland of berating the gardai and accusing them of all sorts. There is no doubt that like any police force the Gardai have had their share of bad eggs, but it has also had a lot of heroes. Men and women who do a difficult job and in the main they do actually do it well. January 2013 saw a lot of us recognise this and it was only a shame that it took such a tragic event to make it happen. Of course it didn’t last long, in no time at all people in politics and media were back to accusing the entire force of being corrupt and worthless.

We also saw the release of the McAleese report into the Magdalene laundries. Enda Kenny made an error at first by stalling due to the usual government fear about compensation. He got a second chance though and managed to deliver a strong apology and a compensation scheme that was only right. The Magdalene laundries forced us as a state to look at ourselves. It forced us to start accepting some responsibility. In a country where we jump to blame the Vatican, a politician or anybody else, we finally started to admit that it was we the people and the state as a whole that failed. Those at fault for the abuses took advantage of our failures and must be held responsible but if we ever want to learn we have to accept our own part in. The state facilitated all those and it did so with the calm imprimatur of the people. That was the shame we had to face.

We got a new Pope in 2013 also. The world was in a kind of awe at the election. Even those who were not of a religious persuasion could not help being fascinated by it all. Even from a historical perspective the traditions and ceremony that surrounded it all dating back 2,000 years was enthralling for the nerds among us. Of course we all watched for the white smoke on webcams and passed the time watching seagulls dancing on the top of the chimney. Pope Francis has made a good start in his job since then. He is far more open than Benedict was and may yet set some challenges for the church itself as it interacts with the modern world.

On the other hand the world said goodbye to Margaret Thatcher. She is a long time gone from centre stage and yet her death brought so much emotion to the surface. Some mourned her while others celebrated her death. It is rare to see any democratic western leader’s passing met with such emotions. I kept thinking that it was a bit like the passing of some South American dictator. She may have always expected that it would be so, but personally I’d rather go quietly and unnoticed than have all that at my death.
The Boston Marathon bombings were worldwide news. It is always so shocking to see families and ordinary lives destroyed in such a callous manner. What got me a little bit more about the news story were those who tried to find a way to excuse it. One set made a very valid point about the amount of ordinary civilians killed and maimed in places like Iraq. This is true and I can understand it but it still doesn’t make it right. Yes media coverage was greater but so too were the amount of people in western countries with links to places like Boston. It doesn’t make what happens in Iraq any less valid and only points to the fact that we should perhaps take a greater interest in events there rather than suggesting we cover news from the US less. What really annoyed me however, was the conspiracy theorists on facebook and other places spouting nonsense about how it was all a set up and staged by the government etc. Thankfully there weren’t many but you do have to worry for the few that there was. It was repulsive and said a lot about their minds.

We got a real dose of the Obama love in 2013. The G8 came to Fermanagh and it all caused a bit of a stir. Now being honest I don’t have much interest in stuff like the G8. It always seems to me that it is a group of very powerful people who hold very long meetings and are unable to reach a definite decision on anything. It was a bit of a yawn fest, with fancy statements released and ‘ground breaking’ contacts but did we notice any change in our lives after? No. Could these people actually solve a lot of problems if they wanted? Yes. Will they ever do it? Maybe, but no right now. I like Obama, he has been a better candidate that anyone they have put up against him. Mind you I don’t have the fawning love so many have for him. His presidency has been all a bit ‘meh’. He is a fine orator in the formulaic sense, but he is not exactly the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. He seems like a decent enough bloke but do I see anything different in him? Not really. Could he be from the same political party as George W Bush? Well I can’t tell much difference but then every president looks the same to me.

Then there was the Royal baby. I have to say I had as much interest in this story as I would have in a soggy Mars bar on the floor of a Dublin Bus on a wet Thursday afternoon. Fans of the royals loved it. Fans of the celebrity world loved it. I don’t mind that, each to their own. I am however a republican at heart. The idea of monarchies I find offensive. The idea that one child can become head of state because of their blood and deny all others that chance by the same reason is simply insane in my book. We live in an unequal world its true, but at least I can cling to the hope that we aspire to make it more equal not actively block it. A family and child that will survive in great comfort thanks to the hard work and taxes of ordinary people with far less while actually doing nothing apart from showing up at events is a crazy situation. But, hey, not my business. Lots of people like celebrities and their babies but I would say that at least if you make a movie or write a song you are kind of earning your money and adulation. Anyway the royal baby, George Alexander, was welcomed to the world and I wish him well. Maybe he will put it all to a vote one day.

Speaking of celebrities it was the year we all learned about ‘Twerking’. Miley Cyrus caused quite a stir across the world. We heard a lot of talk that she was going off the rails. I really hope not, I don’t listen to music much but I do know she is an incredibly talented young lady. I would certainly not want my daughter doing what she did but I also remember a certain Kylie Minogue shocking parents and fans when she shed her teeny bop image to prance around the stage seductively in her underwear. Everyone thought that was wrong but within a few years Kylie had reinvented herself and could go back to a more normal style with a mature reputation firmly established. Miley got some advice from Sinead O’Connor who showed us all that she still loves writing letters. Sinead also showed us that a letter says a lot more than a tweet (who knew?). Sinead also proved that even if you don’t want her advice and don’t reply to her letters she will keep sending them to you.

Trappatoni left the Ireland manager hotseat. It was time. There could be no doubting that whatever he achieved at first was not going to be built on. Eventually we got Martin O’Neill with a surprise side kick in Roy Keane. Early results are not too bad. We can hope for the best and should qualify for the Euros. O’Neill is a solid manager who knows how to work with ‘limited’ players….and we have a lot of those. Most importantly we can dare to hope that we might at least become a team that is hard to beat again. I can accept being beaten by better sides 1-0 or 2-0 but there is rarely any excuse for repeatedly conceding large scorelines against any opposition.
2013 also saw the rather embarrassing situation of children being taken from their parents because they don’t look like them. The Irish state was left with serious egg on its face after these incidents. Of course it’s all batted away by saying ‘better safe than sorry’. Eh no, I don’t think so. Those poor children must have been traumatised beyond belief at what happened. Several options were available that could have allowed tests be carried out without swooping and removing the child. We can only hope we really do learn here and it doesn’t happen again.

The government finally managed to legislate for the X case after 20 years and 2 referendums. It was thought that the legislation would pose major problems for Fine Gael but in the end, although it lost a few TDs, the party handled it quite well. If anything it should us that conservative opinion in Ireland is changing. While many may not agree with abortion they are equally tired of debating it for decades and have resigned themselves to the idea that such a moral choice is up to each individual. There will be more cases and bigger debates to come on this issue but for now, in my opinion the Irish people were glad to see it finally off their agenda. It was a big boost for many in labour for whom this was a critical issue.

It was another year of rumour and counter rumour about a deal on Ireland’s debt. We are none the wiser and look set for more of the same next year. The truth is, nobody has put a proposal on the table. No country has sought to build support for a measure to be put to Germany. We are all just heading over to meetings and nodding and asking politely until Germany wakes up and smells the coffee. We all hope not to offend Germany in the meantime and resist shoving the coffee up its nose. However, with German elections out of the way perhaps there is hope. Maybe the Greeks yet again will force the issue.

The Labour party continued to struggle in the polls although with recent good economic news they have shown signs of life. Colm Keaveney resigned and did a good job of that I might add. His subsequent joining of FF was not quite as well managed but time will tell how that will work out. Keaveney certainly raised a lot of eyebrows, mine included. FF seem of late to be waking up to the fact that party support has stagnated. They are 18moths behind the news here but perhaps in another 18 months they might get around to doing something about it. FG is looking at more positive poll result too, everything depends on markets, a precarious growth prediction and a very very tight budget but if it comes off….well it will be quite the achievement. It would make us all very happy; we all desperately need this economy to pick up. Well me in particular anyway!

Finally we said goodbye to the Troika. Well …Kind of. They are actually staying and the EU will be meeting with us every 6 months but at least all the very open stuff is gone. We can go back to the markets and pretend we are big boys again. Michael Noonan said we can’t go mad again. He is of course very correct. We did say the same in the early ’90’s though and look what happened. No, this time we have learned, we really can’t go mad again. All that happened was down purely to corruption and incompetence wasn’t it? We can avoid that now. We will not go mad. As we watch the backdrop of house prices starting to rise in Dublin, complaints beginning elsewhere of something needing to be done to help stop the divide growing with the rest of the country, as the debate starts its embryonic stages about the need for tax cuts to stimulate jobs, as we demand that banks start lending to help boost business and allow people afford a home, as we call for reversals of cuts, better resources, more teachers, nurses, Gardai, as we strenuously oppose wealthy individuals paying more because we need to attract them and their money, as we fear industry leaving our shores and offer it anything to stay, as we look to back anyone who will tell us they can create jobs, don’t take their money let them use it and invest it…….Sure it will all be grand…….


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