Close to home

Sat, Dec 29, 2012, 00:00

From the highs of Euro 2012 and the Olympics, the year came to a sad end on these shores, not least because of the loss of beloved writer Maeve Binchy and the untimely death of Savita Halappanavar

Flagging enthusiasm

Angela Merkel thought they were working, but the Euro 2012-bound Irish soccer fans were tweeting all the way. Hours before they even touched Polish soil, their picture with the flag at Dublin airport departures had gone viral.

Aware our post-bailout bilateral relations might hinge on this image, your trusty Berlin correspondent forwarded it to Angela Merkel’s office. Her reaction? Reliable sources say the lady thought it was hilarious. The German ambassador to Ireland invited the fans to the Booterstown embassy, and the flag was finally auctioned for charity for €15,800. Even the Bild tabloid got in on the act, sharing the joke on its front page with its 12 million readers.

On the record, chancellor spokesman Steffen Seibert was cautious, saying, “If we comment on one picture, we have to comment on them all.” After some cajoling, he added: “But I will say that some are a lot funnier than others.”

Derek Scally

PHOTOGRAPH: GERARD NOLAN

Savita

The death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway in October resonated across the globe and put the State’s stance on abortion under the spotlight as never before.

The 31-year-old dental nurse from India was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to hospital, in Galway, on October 21st, after presenting with back pain. She was found to be miscarrying. Her husband, Praveen, told this newspaper that she had asked several times over a three-day period for the pregnancy to be terminated, but he says the request was refused because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “This is a Catholic country.”

Savita died of septicaemia a week later. The story became headline news all over the world, sparked protests across the country and became central to the debate on legislating for the X case. Multiple inquiries have been launched and more details of the circumstances surrounding her death will emerge in the new year. Conor Pope

PHOTOGRAPH: JULIEN BEHAL/PA

A dear friend

As novelist Jennifer Johnston said in the days afterwards: “It is very hard to think of the world without Maeve.”

Her death in July provoked a stream of warm personal letters and online tributes to this publication from many who had never met her but felt a close affinity to the unofficial laureate of Irish storytelling, feeling her loss as they would that of a dear friend. The words “generous”, “warm” and “wise” were employed over and over to describe both Binchy’s writing and the way she lived her life. That so many felt they knew her was tribute to her prolific talents, whether in best-selling fiction or her former life as Woman’s Editor, London-based reporter and roving columnist for The Irish Times across five successful decades.

At the packed funeral in her home town of Dalkey there was no long-winded eulogy, just plenty of good humour, fine music and a simple arrangement of roses from her beloved husband, Gordon Snell. Typical Maeve.

Róisín Ingle

PHOTOGRAPH: MATT KAVANAGH

Technical switch

After years of preparation and a months-long advertising campaign fronted by Gay Byrne, Ryan Tubridy and other television luminaries, the analogue signal which beamed RTÉ into Irish homes for five decades was finally confined to the dustbin of television history, alongside Wanderly Wagon and Mart and Market.

Miriam O’Callaghan, helped by an RTÉ engineer hunched over a laptop, in a cramped office in Montrose, was the executioner.

With a click of a mouse, she booked her spot on Reeling in the Years 2012 and condemned the 100,000 Irish households who had yet to make the switch by the time the deadline came to a lifetime of white noise and snow – at least until they got their Soarview box sorted.

Conor Pope

Gathering storm

Gabriel Byrne let the cat out of the bag when he announced on Matt Cooper’s radio programme on Today FM that the Gathering was a bit of a scam aimed a shaking down our American cousins. While we all knew it was true, we didn’t want him to say it. What next Gabriel? Will you be telling our American cousins there are no leprechauns in Ireland and we don’t all ride around on asses, comfy in our aran jumpers, pulling on pipes and saying, “Top o’ the morning to ya?” Sheesh.

Conor Pope

PHOTOGRAPH : MATT KAVANAGH

No ordinary handshake

“She was very nice,” is how Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness summed up his meeting with Queen Elizabeth in June, when the pair shared an historic handshake at Belfast’s Lyric theatre.

According to at least one eagle-eyed body-language expert, it was clear from the video of the encounter that the Queen, who pretty much shakes hands for a living, wanted to keep the handshake typically “short and sweet”.

For his part, McGuinness, deeply aware of the potent symbolism of the encounter for both unionists and nationalists, appeared to clasp on to the royal hand for a few moments longer than others in the line-up, including First Minister Peter Robinson. While there was no audio allowed it was reported that McGuinness used the opportunity to wish the Queen “slán agus beanacht” which he translated for her to mean “goodbye and Godspeed”. Afterwards McGuinness declared with a smile: “I’m still a republican.”

Roisin Ingle

PHOTOGRAPH: PAUL FAITH/WPA POOL/GETTY

Well, oil be

In October, Providence Resources were granted a licence to drill an exploratory oil well off the coast of Dalkey (they’re also involved with the extensive Barryroe Oil field off the coast of Cork). So, soon that most genteel of suburbs will be a rough mining town filled with brawling miners, saloons (rather than salons) and petticoat-wearing good-time girls. Understandably many are displeased, at the environmental implications, the fact prospecting companies get tax breaks but are under no obligation to sell their findings to the State and the general lack of clarity about what it’s all going to involve.

Patrick Freyne

PHOTOGRAPH: NIALL CARSON/PA WIRE

Judge dread

"If you had to choose, asked a morose barrister, which would it be ? A serious illness or to be in Heather Perrin's shoes?"

He was watching the 61-year-old former District Court judge - noted for her taste in fine cars and jewellery - crumple in shock and distress on being handed a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence and making legal history.

Convicted of attempting to trick an 82-year-old friend into bequeathing half his estate to her children, she faced particular hurdles in jail due to her known former occupation, said Judge Mary Ellen Ring.

After that, the "public disgrace" of being the first judge to be convicted would "mark her for the rest of her life".

The barrister shuddered: "At least, there's honour in illness."

Kathy Sheridan

Comeback kid

In October, Enda Kenny became the first Irish leader since Lemass to feature on the cover of Time magazine. Inside, a glowing profile credited the Taoiseach with saving Ireland's economy and masterminding a financial comeback from which our European neighbours might learn.

For the electorate, it was like learning that our flatfooted, asthmatic son had just been made captain of the school football team. We were hugely proud, of course. But with unemployment at 14 per cent and emigration at its highest in a generation, we couldn't help wondering if, perhaps, there might just have been some mistake?

Eoin Butler

Bye bye, Bertie

After 15 years and €250 million (and counting), the tribunal set up to investigate planning corruption reported in March that quite a few Fianna Fáil politicians had been up to no good throughout the 1990s. Central to its investigations were the finances of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

It found that large sums of money that came his way over many years could not be properly explained. Ahern said he won some on the gee-gees and had a couple of "dig-outs" from friends after his separation. The tribunal said he was lying.

It did not find him to be corrupt, however, unlike 14 other politicians who it declared to be so. Ahern said he would "never accept" findings by the tribunal that he failed to give a "truthful account" of his finances and said he would continue to examine ways to vindicate his name. He also resigned from the party, avoiding being thrown out.

Conor Pope