A year in highlights: The memorable parts of 2023

A run through of what happened during the year in Ireland and across the globe

January 8th

Bolsonaro mob storms Brazil’s parliament

Supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro storm the country’s government buildings in Brasilia, following Bolsonaro’s 2022 election defeat and the inauguration of Luis Ignátio Lula da Silva as Brazil’s new president. When he was in power, Bolsonaro was known as the “mini-Trump” and after his defeat he followed the Trump playbook by making false claims of election fraud. Bolsonaro was in Orlando, Florida at the time of the attack on Brazil’s parliament, but the mob was hoping their actions would spur the military to instigate a coup d’etat and allow them to reinstate their extreme right champion.

February 6th

Earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria

Turkey and Syria are hit by devastating earthquakes that cause widespread destruction, and lead to a death toll of nearly 60,000, and leaving more than 1.5 million homeless, according to the UN. The earthquakes and aftershocks come in a seismically – and politically – unstable region, with Syria already devastated by a decade-long civil war. In the aftermath of the disaster, there is anger in Turkey over the inadequate response by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and over-shoddy construction and non-enforcement of building regulations. Among those killed in the earthquakes are 32 staff members of Irish-founded aid agency Goal, and in April the Department of Foreign Affairs hosts a memorial service at which Tánaiste Micheál Martin praises the aid workers’ “kindness, compassion and humanity”.

February 27th

Rishi Sunak makes a deal with the EU

Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen appear at Windsor Castle to announce a new post-Brexit deal to replace the contentious Northern Ireland protocol. The Windsor Framework comes after two years of negotiations, and changes many aspects of the protocol, giving the UK greater control over customs, VAT rates and medicines regulation. It also contains the so-called “Stormont brake”, a mechanism by which the North’s Assembly can raise objections to EU rule changes. The DUP, which has been boycotting powersharing in protest at the protocol, effectively shutting down the Executive, says it will study the deal.

March 16th

Broadcaster Ryan Tubridy announces he will vacate the presenter’s chair on The Late Late Show, which he has occupied for 14 years, after taking over from Pat Kenny in 2009. The presenter, who turned 50 this year, says the time is right for him to leave, and says “it’s been a privilege” to present RTÉ's flagship show, and that he will “especially miss the annual chaos of the Toy Show”. Soon, speculation about Tubridy’s possible successor begins, with names including Claire Byrne, Brendan O’Connor, Miriam O’Callaghan and Sarah McInerney bandied about, but one very likely candidate emerges as bookies’ favourite – Northern Irish comedian, actor and presenter Patrick Kielty. Tubridy hosts his final Late Late on May 26th, but shortly after that he and RTÉ are engulfed in a pay scandal, although Tubridy will tell an Oireachtas committee that the pay revelations are unrelated to his decision to step down from the Late Late.


April 12th

Uncle Joe comes to visit

US president Joe Biden lands in Belfast on Air Force One for a four-day visit to the island of Ireland, and is given the full céad míle fáilte treatment as he stops off in Carlingford, Dundalk and Dublin, finishing up in Ballina, in his ancestral homeland of Co Mayo. He meets with the President at the Áras, and addresses the Houses of the Oireachtas, but passes over Stormont, in what is seen as a pointed rebuke to the DUP for collapsing the Executive in protest at the Northern Ireland protocol. With pressing issues facing the Biden administration both at home and abroad, and with another election showdown with Donald Trump increasingly certain, Biden’s Irish trip is seen domestically as a distraction, but here we lapped up all his platitudes and plamásing, and were rewarded with a classic Bidenism when he referred to his relative Rob Kearney as “a hell of a rugby player who beat the hell out of the Black and Tans”.

April 17th

Gerard “The Monk” Hutch is sensationally acquitted of the murder of Kinahan gang member David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Dublin in February 2016, following a 52-day non-jury trial at the Central Criminal Court. The three-court judge concludes that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against Hutch, and that it could not rely on the evidence of main witness Jonathan Dowdall. The court finds two other men guilty of facilitating the shooting of Byrne at a boxing weigh-in at the Regency, but Hutch’s acquittal is a huge embarrassment for the Garda and the DPP, and calls into question their reliance on the evidence of criminals who turn State’s witness. A few days later, an investigator with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) reveals that he had attended a party in his neighbourhood to celebrate Hutch’s acquittal, and that Hutch and several members of the Hutch crime family were also present. The investigator resigns while Gsoc initiates an investigation.

May 6th

In London, Charles and Camilla are crowned king and queen at a lavish coronation ceremony attended by world leaders, dignitaries and members of the royal family. Crowds line the streets as Charles and Camilla set off from Buckingham Palace in the Diamond Jubilee state coach to Westminster Abbey, where Charles is crowned king by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar are among the guests, the first-ever Irish president and taoiseach to attend the coronation of a British monarch. Varadkar’s partner, Matthew Barrett, causes much mirth - and a few tut-tuts - when he sends out some irreverent Instagram posts to his 350 followers, comparing Charles’s crown to the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books.

June 18th

The world is gripped by the fate of the Titan submersible vessel, which has gone missing while on a dive to view the wreck of the Titanic, off the coast of Newfoundland. A huge international search operation begins, in hope of rescuing the crew of five, which includes British billionaire Hamish Harding, Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, and Stockton Rush, the founder and chief executive of OceanGate Expeditions, which owns and operates the 6.4-metre submersible. After several agonising days, search and rescue teams find debris that is “consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel”. It is thought all five crew died instantly, and immediately the focus turns to the OceanGate CEO’s alleged “cavalier” attitude to safety in one of the most “unforgiving” environments on the planet.

June 22nd

The RTÉ payments scandal

The nation is gripped by an RTÉ soap opera – and it’s not Fair City. The revelation of “hidden” payments to the station’s highest-paid presenter, Ryan Tubridy, amounting to €345,000, sparks anger among staff at Montrose and among licence fee payers, with Tubridy taken off the air as the controversy raged, and senior RTÉ management called in front of a Dáil Public Accounts Committee to explain how Tubridy’s remuneration came to be underdeclared. When Tubridy and his agent Noel Kelly appear in front of the PAC, they blame RTÉ for shoddy financial management, and soon the focus turns to RTÉ's profligate spending, with stories of barter accounts and promotional flip-flops keeping us entertained through the summer. Licence fee receipts, however, take a nosedive as angry viewers vote with their wallets. New director general Kevin Bakhurst promises to reform spending at the station, and negotiates with Tubridy for his return to his radio show on a reduced salary, but relations between the two break down at the last minute, and Tubs is forced to set off for pastures new.

July 2nd

The 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand and, for the first time, the Republic of Ireland women’s squad have qualified for the competition. The team, led by captain Katie McCabe, sets out with high hopes following an excellent qualifying campaign which included their biggest-ever win - an 11-0 drubbing of Georgia, but the team stall at the group stages, losing 1-0 to Australia and 2-1 to Canada, with McCabe superbly scoring the team’s only goal in the World Cup just four minutes into the match.

The team’s World Cup adventure comes with a side order of drama as tensions erupt between McCabe and manager Vera Pauw during the match with Nigeria. It was also shadowed by controversy as Pauw denied accusations of “abusive and belittling” behaviour while a coach at Houston Dash in 2018. Following their premature exit from the tournament, the FAI decide not to extend Pauw’s contract despite her achievement in leading the Ireland women to their first World Cup.

July 20th

A US tourist suffers “life-changing” injuries in an unprovoked attack in Dublin city centre, and sparks calls for the Government to take action to tackle increasing violence on Dublin’s streets. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee condemns the attack by a group of teenagers, and promises a “tough and firm response” to the “thuggery” on our streets, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promises increased Garda resources to tackle lawlessness. Local politicians and activists are soon discussing the “air of menace” that has descended on the capital in recent times, with Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon saying “there’s definitely an edge in Dublin. And we have gotten to the point where there’s no consequences when you step over that edge.”

August 23rd

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the notorious Wagner Group of mercenaries, is killed in a plane crash in Russia, bringing to an end the biggest crisis faced by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s in his two decades in power. The multimillionaire militia commander was a close ally of Putin, and the Wagner Group fought on behalf of Russia in Ukraine and other locations, but in June Prigozhin led an armed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership, capturing the military base at Rostov-on-Don and sending a column of troops and tanks to march on Moscow. After cutting a deal with the Kremlin, Prigozhin is promised safe passage to Belarus, but dies in an unexplained plane crash alongside several of his senior associates.

September 26th

A large cargo ship, the MV Matthew, is seized off the Cork coast with €157 million worth of cocaine on board – the largest drug haul in the history of the State. In a dramatic operation, the Naval Service fires warning shots across the ship’s bows as it tries to flee, and an Army Ranger Wing team is winched on to the ship to secure the vessel. The ship had begun its journey in the southern Caribbean, carrying drugs supplied by a “murderous” South American cartel, and officials believe the ship would not have come “without an Irish organised criminal group being involved”. It is believed a smaller boat, The Castlemore, which ran aground off the Wexford coast, was to take delivery of drugs from the larger vessel. The incident highlights how a lack of resources to patrol our seas is making Ireland an attractive prospect for drug smugglers.

September 28th

An Oireachtas Committee on Health hears shocking details of complex spinal surgeries carried out at Crumlin Children’s Hospital using unapproved springs. The revelations come after a review that finds high levels of postoperative complications and infection in 19 children undergoing spinal surgery at Temple Street children’s hospital, with one child later dying. Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) says it is “deeply sorry” for the lack of care for the children and their families, and that the use of unauthorised medical devices such as the springs will never happen again.

October 7th

Israel-Hamas war

Hamas terrorists cross the border into parts of southern Israel in a surprise attack in the early hours of the morning, killing 1,400 people in a brutal massacre and taking 250 people hostage, including nine-year-old Emily Hand. Israel responds immediately by declaring war on Hamas and launching air strikes on northern Gaza. The Israel-Hamas war wreaks destruction across the Gaza Strip, as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledges to neutralise Hamas, so far almost 20,000 people are killed in the relentless bombing, most of them women and children, and more than 2 million have been displaced from their homes as the Israeli Defence Forces continue their air and ground assault. A temporary ceasefire at the end of November results in some of the hostages being freed - including nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand - in exchange for prisoners, but about 120 hostages are still being held captive. As international support for Israel wanes in the face of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, the UN was due to hold a delayed vote on a resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire.

November 8th

Molly Martens and her father, Tom Martens, are sentenced to an additional seven months and two years for the killing of Limerick man Jason Corbett in 2015, after Molly Martens agreed not to contest a charge of voluntary manslaughter, and Tom Martens entered a plea of voluntary manslaughter. The pair had been jailed for second-degree murder for the killing of Corbett, who was married to Molly Martens, but that was overturned on appeal, and the pair made a plea deal that meant they will probably be free by summer 2024. During the sentencing hearing, the Martenses set out to destroy Jason Corbett’s character, claiming he had murdered his first wife, while Corbett’s children, who were aged 10 and eight at the time their father was killed, detailed how their stepmother had coached them to lie in court during the original trial.

November 9th

Jozef Puska is convicted of the murder of schoolteacher Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, Co Offaly in January 2022, and later sentenced to life imprisonment. The jury did not believe Puska’s story that he had been trying save Ashling after she was attacked by another man, and that he himself had been stabbed by the unknown assailant. Two days after the murder, Puska had presented himself at St James’s hospital with stab wounds to the stomach, which gardaí believe were self-inflicted, and then admitted to gardaí that he had stabbed a woman in Tullamore, though the cause of death was not in the public domain. Puska then retracted his confession but, following a trial that included compelling DNA evidence, the married father of five from Slovakia was found guilty by a unanimous verdict.

November 23rd

Three children and a woman in her 30s are seriously injured in a stabbing incident on Parnell Square in Dublin at around 1.30pm, with one of the children, a five-year-old girl, left fighting for her life at Temple Street hospital. The assailant is quickly overpowered by passersby, and is also injured. The attacks are followed by an eruption of public disorder as anti-immigrant groups gather at the scene of the attack where gardaí have cordoned off the crime scene. Soon, the city centre is the scene of full-blown riots and clashes between large groups of people and gardaí, and a bus and a Luas carriage are among vehicles set ablaze. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris blames a “lunatic, hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology” for the violence. The riots will fuel more debate about how safe are Dublin’s streets, and Sinn Féin calls for a vote of no confidence in Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, which is defeated in the Dáil.

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Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist