After a solid finish to 2013 which saw the State exit the EU-IMF bailout and Fine Gael and Labour receive an end of year boost in a post-budget opinion poll, the Government must have been looking forward to what 2014 had in store.
A set of deficit beating exchequer returns allowed the Coalition to begin the year on the front foot with veiled promises of tax cuts to come and ministers saying "it is important that we look beyond consolidation" after six years of austerity.
But issues familiar and new began to dog the Government from early in the New Year. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, during a trade mission to the Gulf region, faced questions over the erection of pylons, the resignation of Limerick City of Culture staff, storm devastation in parts of the south and west, and mounting consultancy costs at Irish Water.
Concerns about the amounts paid to senior figures involved in organisations with charitable links continued to make the headlines with Rehab's Angela Kerins coming under scrutiny and the details of former Central Remedial Clinic chief executive Paul Kiely's exit adding further fuel to the fire.
Fine Gael and Labour members clashed over the decision to allow Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe give private evidence about penalty points to the Public Accounts Committee just a day after the then Minister for Justice Alan Shatter called for an investigation into the debacle by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc).
Also making headlines in January were the murder of a man in a row over a game of chess; a panel questioning the Abbey Theatre's world-class status; the personal life of French president Francois Hollande; the deaths of two Galway-Mayo IT students in a Belgian fire; and comments from former president Mary McAleese about the Catholic Church being in denial over homosexuality.
The long-awaited trial of three former Anglo Irish Bank directors started in February with the jury hearing the accused knew about an illegal scheme to fund the buying of shares in the now defunct bank. Bankrupt businessman Sean Quinn was one of the star witnesses during the trial, telling the court he felt like “a fool” after losing €3.2 billion after buying Anglo shares.
The month also saw controversy over the payment of damages to journalist John Waters and five members of the Iona Institute over a claim of homophobia made by Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show. RTÉ said the €85,000 payout saved it “an absolute multiple” as it was facing six defamation actions. Columnist Fintan O'Toole argued that gay men and lesbians should not have to care whether Iona Institute members love them or not.
The shortest month must have felt like one of the longest for Mr Shatter with allegations of bugging at the headquarters of Gsoc adding to the ongoing penalty points controversy. He relived Oliver Connolly, the lawyer appointed to deal with Garda whistleblowers, of his duties after a recording of a conversation between him and Sgt McCabe emerged.
Mr Shatter was backed by colleagues after Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin called for a commission of inquiry to be established after receiving documents claiming that murders and other crimes were not properly investigated. Sgt McCabe later in the month denied a suggestion he had refused to take part in an inquiry into his concerns about penalty points. Mr Shatter later questioned how Sgt McCabe could have been described as co-operating with a Garda inquiry into the matter.
In other news, the Ukraine crisis intensified after deadly clashes involving police and protesters in Kiev's Independence Square; the Rehab board revealed the salary of its chief executive; the Neknomination drinking game created controversy for Facebook after a young man died in Co Carlow; it emerged that letters were issued telling nearly 200 members of the IRA that they were not wanted for prosecution; and a Trinity College Dublin research paper claimed US multinationals reported paying tax rates of 2.2 per cent in Ireland.
A series of controversies around An Garda Siochana came to a head in March when commissioner Martin Callinan, under pressure after his use of the term "disgusting" was seen as a reference to whistleblowers, resigned. His decision came as a potential threat to convictions emerged due to the recording of phone calls at Garda stations. A commission of inquiry into the practice was established and Noirin O'Sullivan was appointed interim Garda commissioner.
The Taoiseach's role in Mr Callinan’s resignation was questioned after it emerged a senior civil servant visited him before he made his decision. The Coalition sought to reduce the pressure with Mr Shatter offering the whistleblowers an apology for suggesting they had not cooperated with a Garda penalty points inquiry.
March also saw the publication of a report into Portlaoise hospital, prompted by a RTÉ PrimeTime programme highlighting the deaths of four infants, which found maternity services at the facility “cannot be regarded as safe and sustainable within its current governance arrangements”.
The Ukraine crisis continued with the European Union raising the prospect of sanctions on officials close to the Kremlin after Crimea voted to break with Kiev and join Russia.
In other news, armed gardai were at the hospital bed of convicted drug dealer John Gilligan after a second attempt on his life since his release from prison; detailed figures emerge illustrating how Apple used Irish entities to pay almost no corporation tax for years on billions of dollars of revenue earned in other countries; it emerged that Fine Gael strategist and Rehab director Frank Flannery was paid thousands by the charity to lobby the Government; institutional abuse campaigner Christine Buckley died; Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished an hour into its journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board; and Ireland won the Six Nations rugby title.
April saw President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina in London for a first ever State visit to Britain by an Irish president. A banquet at Windsor Castle was the centrepiece of the four-day trip and the occasion saw both Mr Higgins and Queen Elizabeth exchange warm compliments about the relationship between the two islands. The Taoiseach later raised the prospect of a royal presence at Ireland's 1916 Rising commemorations.
During the visit, Mr Higgins visited 10 Downing Street, addressed the joint houses of parliament, met Irish medical workers at a London hospital and attended a special concert at the Royal Albert Hall. London Editor Mark Hennessy later reflected on what had been viewed as a successful exercise in building British-Irish relations.
The first Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll of the year, a month ahead of the local and European elections, showed a drop in support for the Government parties following the Garda controversies. A separate question found the events around the Garda had significantly dented the public's confidence in Mr Shatter, Mr Callinan, An Garda Siochana, the Taoiseach and Coalition parties.
Jurors in the trial of three former Anglo Irish Bank directors were told to show “moral courage” and leave any prejudice they might have about bankers at the door of the jury room. Former Anglo chairman Sean FitzPatrick was found not guilty on all charges against him. Former Anglo directors Pat Whelan and William McAteer were found guilty of providing illegal loans to buy shares in the bank but were cleared over six counts relating to lending to members of Seán Quinn’s family. The two could have faced up to five years in jail but Judge Martin Nolan said it would be unjust to imprison them given “a State agency had led them into error and illegality”.
In other news, Angela Kerins resigned as Rehab chief executive; the then minister for education Ruairi Quinn was jeered at the ASTI conference as he told teachers their opposition to Junior Cert reform was out of step; a woman says she has been sleeping in a car with her three young children for a week after temporary housing arrangements broke down; and former popes John XXIII and John Paul II are declared saints by Pope Francis.
The month started with a bang with the arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams over the 1972 abduction and murder of mother of 10 Jean McConville. Mr Adams denied any involvement and Sinn Fein criticised the "politically motivated" timing of the arrest given it was just weeks ahead of the local and European elections. He was released after five days.
The Taoiseach and tánaiste again rallied behind Mr Shatter after a report found he broke data protection law on live television in saying that Independent TD Mick Wallace was cautioned by gardai for holding a mobile phone while driving. Mr Shatter offered his resignation the following day after assessing the findings of a report into Garda malpractice by barrister Sean Guerin.
Frances Fitzgerald was appointed as his successor and she said there was a “crisis of confidence” among the public in relation to An Garda Síochana. The Guerin Report vindicated Sgt McCabe and Mr Kenny committed the Government to a “root-and-branch analysis” of the practice of the administration of justice in the country.
The big winners in the local and European elections were Sinn Fein and Independent candidates, with both adding about 8 points to their 2009 local poll results. Fianna Fail was delighted to hold its own but the party leadership faced questions over the Mary Hanafin debacle in Blackrock.
The elections left the coalition parties (both down some 8 points) with a bloodied nose, and prompted a change of leadership in the Labour Party with Mr Gilmore saying he would step aside. His deputy Joan Burton emerged as the frontrunner to succeed him. Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party won the Dublin West byelection and Fine Gael's Gabrielle McFadden held the Longford-Westmeath seat left vacant by the death of her sister Nicky earlier in the year.
In May, The Irish Times reported a rare insight into the life of former US first lady Jackie Kennedy, after it emerged that a series of letters she sent to Vincentian priest Fr Joseph Leonard were due to go up for auction. All Hallows College subsequently withdrew the letters from auction and they were ultimately returned to the Kennedy family.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan made his share of headlines in June as news of his seemingly successful treatment for cancer emerged and the political focus shifted to the budget after the elections. A number of internal and external bodies stressed the need to stick to a planned €2 billion budget adjustment but Mr Noonan insisted that beating a deficit target was his focus.
The inquiry by retired High Court judge John Cooke into alleged bugging of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission found no evidence such activity had taken place. The report was seen to have had something for everybody with both the Garda and Gsoc claiming vindication. Mr Shatter launched a stinging attack on the Guerin Report, which brought his ministerial career to an end, describing it as fundamentally flawed and likening it to “kangaroo courts”.
The Government came under growing pressure to hold a full historical inquiry into the deaths of almost 800 children in a mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway between the 1920s and the 1960s. The report, following research by historian Catherine Corless, won international headlines. Separate figures found that more than 660 infants and children died in Pelletstown mother and baby home in Dublin during a seven-year period up to the end of March 1930.
In other news, the Government decided to return discretionary medical cards taken from 15,300 people with serious medical conditions; economist Thomas Piketty said the Government should make the property tax fairer by recasting it to take account of mortgage debt and financial assets; there was controversy over the Government's banking inquiry majority; Iraq's leadership came under fire for capitulating to Islamic State insurgents; former billionaire Sir Anthony O’Reilly failed in his legal bid to get more time to repay his debts; and the World Cup got underway in Brazil.
Joan Burton's inevitable appointment as Tanaiste and Labour leader set the ball rolling for a Cabinet reshuffle in July, which saw five ministers step aside and some new blood arrive on the Government's frontbench. A pledge to reduce the 52 per cent tax rate was a key commitment in the revised Government statement of priorities as were moves in relation to water charges and pensions. Controversy around the administration of justice continued to plague the Government with Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell stepping aside after an independent report criticised the "silo-driven" culture of the department.
Talk of the Cabinet reshuffle was as good as eclipsed by a controversy over country musician Garth Brooks and a will he/won't he situation over his highly anticipated run of five concerts at Croke Park. Dublin City Council refused to licence two of the five shows, for which a total of some 400,000 tickets were sold, prompting Brooks to say “for us, it is five shows or none at all”.
The debacle, branded by Jim Carroll as the inevitable live music mess of the year, saw the council say it had consistently expressed concern about the number of concerts proposed. Would-be compromises such as mediation between the parties, potential new dates, matinees, and even an offer of intervention from the Taoiseach failed to yield a solution. The singer said he would beg for a solution but he stuck to his guns over the five dates and the cancellation of all five concerts was soon confirmed.
July also saw Irish Water come under fire for seeking the PPS numbers of people registering with the utility; a new conflict erupted between Israel and Palestine; the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine killing some 300 people; US president Barack Obama castigated American companies for “gaming the system” by relocating their headquarters to low tax countries such as Ireland; and Rory McIlroy wins golf's British Open at Hoylake.
The death of former taoiseach Albert Reynolds (81) occurred in August. The Fianna Fail man, credited with bringing razzmatazz to the midlands, was warmly recalled as one of the main architects of peace in Northern Ireland. As businessman he had interests in areas such as dancehalls and pet food. He was noted as a risk-taker and dealmaker during his entrepreneurial and political careers but also as a pussy cat at home. Kathy Sheridan reported as supporters from his Longford base came to Dublin to pay their respects to Reynolds before his State funeral.
Opposition to the water charges began to bubble over in the autumn and a proposed charge of half a cent for every litre of domestic water used was announced by the Commission for Energy Regulation. This made water in Ireland dearer than in most European countries. The Environmental Protection Agency said it may prosecute Irish Water over ongoing problems with water supplies in Co Roscommon, where boil water notices have been in place for a number of years.
An Irish Times series - Lives in Limbo - examined life in the direct provision system as it emerged social services were alerted to more than 1,500 child protection or welfare concerns over young people living in centres for asylum seekers over the previous five years. The Government said it would establish a working group to review the direct provision system and find a new process to streamline applications for refugee status.
The abortion debate took off again when a young woman who was refused an abortion and later had her pregnancy delivered by Caesarean section told how she attempted to take her own life when she was 16 weeks pregnant. A four-person team was appointed by the HSE to report on the care given to the young woman, who says she was raped.
Elsewhere, former taoiseach John Bruton claimed the Easter Rising and War of Independence were “completely unnecessary”; actor Robin Williams died; ratings agency Fitch upgraded its view on Ireland; US journalist Jim Foley, an Islamic State hostage, was murdered by his captors and video purporting to show the killing was posted online. Mary Fitzgerald recalled her friend Jim Foley as a laid-back and generous person.
The death occurred in September of former Northern Ireland first minister and DUP leader Ian Paisley (88). Tributes were paid to the former moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church for making a “massive contribution” to political life in Northern Ireland which culminated in the current Stormont administration. Noted as a firebrand, who possessed a way with words, his hard line approach eased later in life and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern recalled his “warmth and his sincerity”.
Budget talk dominated the political realm during the month with the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and EU authorities calling for another tough budget but Government members, including the Taoiseach, stressed the need to try to give something back to the public. Phil Hogan clashed with Independent MEP Nessa Childers ahead of the vetting process in Brussels ahead to clear the way for his appointment as Ireland’s new European Commissioner. Fine Gael was accused of cronyism over the appointment John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art shortly before his run as the party’s Seanad byelection candidate. The issue put pressure on new Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys but Mr McNulty eventually asked not to be voted for and the Taoiseach apologised and undertook that such events would not happen again. Independent candidate Gerard Cruaghwell won the Seanad seat.
Also in September, Scotland voted no in a long anticipated independence referendum but the result still landed David Cameron in hot water; a yacht carrying an estimated €80 million worth of cocaine was detained off the south coast; there was a tragedy in Cork as three young brothers died in a murder suicide incident; Minister of State Paudie Coffey hired a director of Irish Water as his personal driver; Kerry won the All Ireland men’s football final with Cork taking the ladies crown; and Kilkenny won the All Ireland hurling title after a replay with Cork capturing the camogie championship; and Europe retained golf’s Ryder Cup under Irish captain Paul McGinley.
A budget featuring income tax reductions, USC reform and promises of more goodies to come for the public was announced by Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin. It was seen as a step in a wider effort to restore the Coalition’s fortunes. However, the cumulative effect of the property tax and water charges took some of the gloss off the first giveaway budget for almost seven years. It was branded as the Government using borrowed money to buy votes by Fianna Fail. A budget announcement of a €100 water conservation allowance did little to stifle the momentum of anti-water charge protesters, who staged a huge rally in Dublin days before the budget was delivered. Victory for anti-water charge candidate Paul Murphy in the Dublin South West byelection and Independent Michael Fitzmaurice in Roscommon-South Leitrim highlighted the issues facing the establishment parties.
New mortgage rules were announced by the Central Bank to try to cool fears over a new property bubble emerging, with a demand for a 20 per cent deposit seen as the most onerous aspect of the package. Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan later hinted that the deposit measure was likely to be eased.
Sinn Fein came under scrutiny after Maíria Cahill, a grand niece of former IRA leader Joe Cahill, told BBC Spotlight she was raped by a leading republican in 1997 and later subjected to an interrogation by the IRA about the case. The Taoiseach met Ms Cahill at Government Buildings and Gerry Adams accused opponents and the media of being guilty of the politicisation of the case. There were tense exchanges during a subsequent Dail debate on allegation of sexual abuse by republican.
Also in October, retired footballer Roy Keane won his share of headlines with a new autobiography; the Co Kildare home of Sir Anthony O’Reilly went on the market for more than €30 million; Sinn Fein drew level with Fine Gael in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll; a 2-year-old boy dies after a stabbing incident in south Dublin; and Apple warns shareholders it may have to pay back-tax to Ireland if a European Commission inquiry into its arrangements finds they constituted state aid.
Water charges dominated the news agenda again in November as further protests upped the pressure on the Government to act on the issue. A demonstration in Jobstown in Dublin, which saw Tanaiste Joan Burton trapped in her car for more than two hours, became a divisive moment. Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy came under fire over his role in the incident despite him and his party colleagues insisting the protest was peaceful. Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly sought to bring the issue to a close with the announcement of a revised water package. The Taoiseach was said to have told TDs to go home and sell the regime to voters. Miriam Lord categorised it as the Coalition being willing to do anything to get out of the mess.
November also saw the emergence of the LuxLeaks files, which outlined schemes through which over 340 multinational companies avoided or potentially avoided millions of euro in tax. The Irish Times was among a pool of publications from 26 countries that participated in the initiative. Companies such as Ikea, GSK and Glanbia feature in the documents which piled pressure on European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker, who was Luxembourg’s prime minister for most of the time covered by the investigation.
The Irish Times obtained the long-sought after letter sent from former ECB president Jean Claude Trichet to former minister for finance Brian Lenihan ahead of the bailout. The tone of the correspondence suggested the ECB was calling the shots but Frankfurt insisted Ireland was not bounced into the aid programme.
The Garda Inspectorate published a report that highlighted serious deficiencies in Irish policing. Interim commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan denied crime figures had been massaged but the report showed the State had a force in critical need of modernisation. Ms O’Sullivan was subsequently given the job of leading the reform of An Garda Siochana when she was appointed commissioner on a permanent basis.
In other news, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald was accused of damaging the reputation of the Dáil after a row with Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett; FAI chief John Delaney came under fire for singing a republican song after Ireland beat the USA; Barack Obama announced a US immigration overhaul that could help thousands of Irish people; and it emerged that Irish subsea telecommunications cables have been targeted by British intelligence.
The story of a dossier alleging tax evasion by former politicians took off in December when Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald read the names featured into the Dail record. Mary Harney, who was minister for enterprise when whistleblower Gerry Ryan began investigating the claims, denied she called a halt to the inquiry as it was moving too close to figures from her Progressive Democrat party. The Government and Revenue insisted the claims in the dossier had been previously examined.
Water charges continued to pose problems for the Government with a further large scale protest taking place in Dublin and polls showing less than 50 per cent of people intended to pay up as well as a drop in support for the Coalition. It emerged that Irish Water has been spending some €80,000 a week on legal fees and that Department of Social Protection staff had objected to the utility seeking PPS numbers.
In other news, an RTE documentary exposed mistreatment of residents at a Co Mayo centre for people with intellectual disabilities; secondary school teachers went on strike over Junior Cert reforms; a US senate report found that the CIA misled the White House and public about its torture of detainees after the September 11th attacks; and the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry got underway.