The year between the lines

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CURRENT AFFAIRS: As a flavour of Ireland in the year gone by The Irish Times Book of the Year 2002.would be a particularly appropriate gift for someone living abroad, writes Eithne Fitzgerald.

The Irish Times Book of the Year 2002. Edited by Peter Murtagh. Gill and Macmillan, 256pp. €24.99

The year covered by this book - October 2001 to September 2002 - included the aftermath of September 11th, a referendum and a general election, meltdown in Jerusalem, and the summer of Roy and Mick. But if one theme runs through the selection, it is the role of the press in a modern society. This is underlined by opening the book with the death of Martin O'Hagan, the journalist shot in Lurgan by paramilitaries.

This is literally vintage Irish Times - it covers the final year of Conor Brady's editorship, the year before the major exodus of journalists brought on by financial difficulties. The coverage of the crisis at the Irish Times includes a critical piece from Fintan O'Toole on the role of newspaper trusts.

There are pieces in this book which have helped shape events - Tom Humphries's fateful interview with Roy Keane, Arthur Beesley's exposure of the shelf company behind the National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown, Deirdre de Barra's moving letter, which played a part in the defeat of the abortion referendum.

Two of the abiding visual memories of the general election are included. There is Martyn Turner's cartoon of the PDs' cart trundling to the tumbrils. Then, securing the resurrection of the PDs, there is Michael McDowell up a lamppost urging people not to trust Fianna Fáil with an overall majority.

The selection of mainly colour pieces, aside from Fintan O'Toole's post-mortem article, to illustrate the election, serves to reinforce the media consensus at the time that the election was about style not about issues.

In better economic times, the network of foreign correspondents has been one of the newspaper's key strengths. Here we find summer in Rome and Christmas in Beijing.

There is powerful reporting from Lara Marlowe on Afghanistan, David Horovitz in Jerusalem, Michael Jansen in Jenin, and Conor O'Clery's eyewitness account of September 11th.

We have the coming of the euro, and the departure of the Queen Mother. There are the architectural marvels of the National Gallery extension and Dundrum' s Luas bridge. There is the Olympic bobsleighing peer, the lonely departure of Warren Gatland, and the triumph of Kilkenny's hurlers.

Transitions marked include Enda Kenny's ascent to FG leader, Ruairí Quinn's retirement as Labour leader, and the death of John B. Keane.

Financial scandals home and away include Ansbacher, Enron and Rusnak as well as Liam Lawlor's fairytale Christmas in New York. John McManus reveals how we pay more ewe premiums than there are relevant sheep.

The book is beautifully produced. The book format does much more justice than newsprint to the quality of the photographs. However, I would query some of the juxtaposition of images to stories, such as jolly photos beside a moving piece on Afghanistan.

As someone who cannot resist an unread newspaper, I had read many of these pieces when they originally appeared, but enjoyed the re-reading. As a flavour of Ireland in the year gone by, this book would be a particularly appropriate gift for someone living abroad.

Eithne Fitzgerald is economic policy analyst with tasc, a new policy think-tank, and is a former minister of state

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