Do you remember this? What happened in 2020
2020 in review: Megxit, Weinstein, missing paddleboarders, Black Lives Matter: it wasn’t all Covid-19
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex: took backseats as members of the British royal family. Photograph: Samir Hussein/WireImage
In the month when Brexit becomes official, the British people are faced with a new crisis: Megxit. Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, announce they are stepping back as senior members of the royal family. The move is widely seen as a response to the intense tabloid scrutiny of the couple over the past couple of years, and the relentless racist trolling of Markle. The couple say they will now divide their time between the UK and North America, will no longer refer to themselves as “their royal highnesses” and will financially uncouple from the British taxpayer.
Donald Trump’s impeachment trial begins in the US Senate, with the US president accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his attempts to persuade Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter. This, according to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, amounted to soliciting a foreign power to help Trump win re-election in 2020. Republican senators close ranks around the president, all except for Mitt Romney who “crosses the floor” and votes to convict his boss. The trial sees the bizarre claim by lawyer Alan Dershowitz that Trump could not be impeached for any corrupt act to achieve re-election if he believed it was for the good of the American people. To no one’s surprise, Trump is cleared of any wrongdoing.
Irish people go to the polls in the general election, and deliver a shock to the status quo. Up to now, Irish politics has been a bit of a Lanigan’s ball – FF steps in, FG steps out again – but, for the first time since the foundation of th e State, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael are the dominant party, as Sinn Féin becomes the big winner, winning the most first-preference votes, and winning 37 seats, making it almost a three-way tie. Even Sinn Féin is taken by surprise by the result – it had fielded a small number of candidates, not expecting a sudden surge in popularity. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael start the long process of agreeing a historic coalition to keep SF out of government.
The World Health Organisation names the new disease which has emerged from Wuhan Covid-19, having declared it a public health emergency of international concern, as cases begin to rise across Asia and Europe. An outbreak on the cruise ship Diamond Princess sees more than 700 passengers test positive for coronavirus, including two Irish citizens. Northern Ireland records its first case of coronavirus on February 27, with the first case in the Republic two days later. Fears over the spread of Covid-19 trigger a major stock market crash, with the Dow Jones having its biggest-ever one-day decline.
Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault, having been found guilty in a New York court in February. The producer of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster films had faced a litany of sexual assault allegations from dozens of women, many of whom worked for him or starred in his films, and six of his accusers sit together in court as he is sentenced. Weinstein, who suffers from ill-health, expresses remorse in court, but also criticises the #MeToo movement, set up to highlight the issue of men using their positions of power to exploit and abuse women.
Ireland goes into lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 and “flatten the curve”. For the first time, Irish people have to grapple with the concept of social distancing, wearing masks, working from home and cocooning. People are advised not to make non-essential journeys, and to stay within a 2km radius of their home. Shops, pubs and restaurants are closed, with only essential shops such as supermarkets and hardware stores allowed to receive customers. Suddenly, baking bread, having Zoom meetings and posting videos of kitchen dances becomes the norm, as the population settles in for a long, drawn-out waiting game. On the same day Ireland goes into lockdown, British prime minister Boris Johnson announces he has tested positive for Covid-19.
Debenhams Ireland announces it won’t be reopening after coronavirus restrictions are lifted, but would instead be seeking liquidation of all its Irish stores, with the loss of up to 2,100 jobs both directly and in the department store’s concessions. Angry workers stage protests outside Debenhams stores, and the retailer is accused of using Covid-19 as an excuse to get out of Dodge. Protesters urge Irish shoppers to avoid the debenhams.ie website, which is still operating.
The folk of south Co Dublin find a new pastime to occupy them during lockdown: Matt Damon-hunting. The Hollywood star, who is filming Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel in Dublin, is stuck in lockdown in Dalkey with his family, and a photo of him by the sea holding a SuperValu bag goes viral, with speculations as to what’s in the bag, and quips such as “Jesus Christ, that’s Jason Bourne” and various references to his films The Martian – “He must really like spuds” – and Contagion, in which he does battle with a fictional pandemic. The locals take pity on poor Damon, stuck in his luxury pad on Ireland’s Amalfi Coast, and adopt him as their own, giving the international media short shrift when they come poking their noses.
Boris Johnson’s Machiavellian adviser Dominic Cummings comes under fire after it emerges he travelled more than 400km from London to Durham during lockdown, while displaying symptoms of Covid-19. Things heat up even more for Cummings when it is revealed that, while in Durham, he took a daytrip to a nearby scenic spot. When asked why he made the 96km round trip, he says it was to test whether his eyesight was adversely affected by Covid-19. The architect of Brexit gives a press conference in which he remains unapologetic for breaking restrictions he helped set up, and dismisses calls for him to step down. Johnson stands by his man, but, just a few months later, Cummings will be seen leaving Downing Street with his belongings in a cardboard box.
A black man, George Floyd, is killed by police on a street in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparking protests across the US and energising the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. Floyd (46) had been arrested on suspicion of passing a forged bill, put on the ground and handcuffed, and police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes, only releasing his chokehold after a fellow officer found no pulse and medics pleaded with him to let go. Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe”, became a slogan for activists protesting against racism and police brutality. Far-right groups, with tacit approval of US president Donald Trump, tried to push back with the counter-slogan “All lives matter”, but the killing of George Floyd galvanised many black voters who would help deliver the presidential election to Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Ireland finally gets a new government as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is elected Taoiseach, heading a historic three-party coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar steps down as taoiseach and takes up the mantle of Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, while Green Party leader Eamon Ryan becomes Minister for Climate Change, Transport and Natural Resources. It is the first time Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have put aside their traditional rivalry and gone into government together. The Taoiseach promises to prioritise the fight against Covid-19, and to work hard to bring recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. The new Cabinet appointments reflect the sweeping changes in Leinster House, but many TDs from the west are miffed that few ministerial jobs went their way.
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill faces a barrage of criticism after attending the funeral of prominent republican and former IRA activist Bobby Storey in west Belfast. The funeral, attended by a large number of people, including Sinn Féin’s leader Mary Lou McDonald and former leader Gerry Adams, appeared to breach coronavirus restrictions – particularly guidelines on social distancing and numbers attending Mass. O’Neill rejects calls for her resignation, saying, “I stand over that my actions were within the regulations and the public health guidance.” But DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster, with whom O’Neill regularly delivers daily coronavirus briefings at Stormont, says, “Our message has been damaged as a result of what happened.”
US president Donald Trump formally notifies Congress and the UN of his intention to withdraw from the World Health Organisation, citing its mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, in a spectacular pot-kettle-black scenario. Democrats say this move will leave “Americans sick and America alone”. Trump had been critical of the WHO’s response to the crisis since early in the pandemic, claiming the organisation was being controlled by China, and accusing it of helping the Chinese cover up the true scale of the crisis. Democratic candidate Joe Biden tweets that as soon as he is elected president, he will reverse the Trump decision and “restore our leadership on the world stage”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin faces a new political crisis when it emerges that Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen had been handed a drink-driving ban in 2016, and failed to inform his boss before the Fianna Fáil leader gave him the agriculture portfolio. Cowen makes a personal statement to the Dáil admitting he made a “stupid, stupid mistake”, but things get worse when it is suggested that Cowen may have tried to evade a Garda checkpoint on the night he was caught drink-driving. Cowen refuses to make a second statement to the Dáil explaining exactly what happened, and Martin has no choice but to sack the Offaly TD. It’s just one of many bumps on a rocky road for the troubled Coalition.
The nation is gripped by the rescue of two young women from the Atlantic Ocean just south of Inis Oirr, after they went missing while paddleboarding in Galway Bay. The women, Sara Feeney (23) and her cousin Ellen Glynn (17), had been swept out to sea while paddleboarding at Furbo. The Irish Coast Guard launches a massive search and rescue operation, with the Aran Island and Galway RNLI lifeboats and Irish Coastguard Rescue helicopter 115 searching through the night. The women are eventually found by fisherman and former RNLI lifeboat volunteer Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan, having spent the night clinging to a lobster pot with their paddleboards tied together. The women reveal they kept their spirits up by singing Taylor Swift songs.
The Coalition faces its biggest political crisis after news breaks about an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden, Co Galway, attended by more than 80 people, in breach of new restrictions on the numbers of people who could gather for social events. The great and good of Irish public life are guests at the dinner, including the new Minister for Agriculture, Dara Calleary; Senator Jerry Buttimer; EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan; and Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe. Resignations and recriminations follow, but Woulfe digs his heels in and refuses to step down, leaving the Government, well, stuck in a bunker.
More than 61,000 students around the country get their calculated Leaving Cert grades, after the exams were cancelled in June due to coronavirus restrictions. There’s good news for the class of 2020, as the results are the highest on record, thanks to a huge increase in top marks awarded under the new system, as teachers overestimated their students’ marks, particularly in higher level subjects. But the good news is tempered by the worry about grade inflation, which might devalue the results of previous exams for up to 20,000 college applicants. While the calculated grades solution is not perfect, Minister for Education Norma Foley remains upbeat: “Today, with confidence, you can look back with pride on all that you have achieved and look forward with courage to the next exciting phase of your lives.”
Fighting erupts between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The landlocked region is part of Azerbaijan, but with a breakaway government supported by Armenia. War is sparked when Azerbaijani forces backed by Turkey begin a military offensive to take back the region. The conflict lasts six weeks and costs thousands of lives, despite UN calls on both sides to de-escalate tensions and embark on peace talks. Eventually, Russia brokers a shaky ceasefire.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe unveils Budget 2021, and it’s the biggest giveaway in the history of the State. But the announcement doesn’t quite spark dancing in the streets, as most of the money is designed to alleviate the devastating economic effect of the coronavirus pandemic.The budget includes a €4 billion allocation for health, €500 million for social and affordable housing, and big wads of cash to support businesses hit hardest by Covid-19 closures. The Government also plans to borrow €19 billion to prop up the ailing economy and keep it afloat, and will keep the wage subsidy going until the end of 2021.
Trump-nominated conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed for the Supreme Court, just one week before the US presidential election. The ultra-conservative judge had been tapped by Trump for the lifelong position following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in early September. Democrats fume over the appointment, as US presidents traditionally don’t appoint new supreme court judges in an election year. Women’s rights advocates are also worried that her appointment will be a blow for abortion rights. Earlier in the month, Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for Covid-19, and it is thought they may have contracted it at a White House reception in honour of Coney Barrett, which has since been labelled a super-spreader event.
Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump in the US election, in a close-run contest that sees Trump’s early lead in battleground states being eaten away by postal votes. Four days after the election, with votes still being counted, AP calls the election for Biden, and he appears at an event in his home town of Wilmington, Delaware along with his running-mate Kamala Harris, as Americans take to the streets to celebrate. Trump refuses to concede the election, falsely claiming widespread voter fraud. On the day the election is called for Biden, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani stages a bizarre press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping premises in Detroit, Michigan, to make unfounded claims of voter fraud.
Montrose is hit by scandal after several RTÉ presenters are photographed at a retirement event apparently breaching social distancing guidelines. Miriam O’Callaghan, David McCullagh and Bryan Dobson are spotted posing for group photographs without face masks and apparently flouting the two-metre rule. The presenters apologise for their lapse of judgment at the event, while RTÉ holds an internal investigation and finds that five breaches of Level-5 restrictions occurred at the event, which took place on the Donnybrook campus.
Ireland comes out of Level 5 lockdown after six weeks, and into Level 3, as retailers, restaurateurs, hairdressers and gyms are cleared for a phased reopening to try to salvage some Christmas business. Cinemas, museums and galleries will also reopen, and religious services will resume, but with attendance restricted to 50 people, and people will be able to host up to two other households for Christmas dinner. But there’s disagreement between the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team over the lifting of restrictions, with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warning people to limit their social contacts over Christmas to avoid Covid-19 problems in January.
The UK is the first country in the world to begin a mass vaccination programme for Covid-19, after regulators approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, despite concerns over possible allergic reactions. A Northern Irish woman from Fermanagh, Co Tyrone, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, becomes the first person in the world to be given the Covid jab outside of clinical trials. She reports feeling no adverse effects, and urges people to get vaccinated as soon as they can.