2021: The year in highlights

From the storming of the Capitol and the Suez Canal to Olympic success and Storm Barra, the news never stopped

January 6th: Donald Trump, refusing to accept his defeat in the US presidential election, holds a rally outside the White House, urging his supporters to "fight like hell" and "stop the steal". Following the rally, a mob storms the Capitol building, where Congress is certifying Joe Biden's win. About 140 police are injured and one woman is shot dead during the subsequent violence. Trump is impeached for the second time following the Capitol attack.

January 6th: The Government announces a new lockdown to cope with a third wave of Covid-19, fuelled by the new Alpha variant and increased socialising around the Christmas period. Schools and colleges are ordered not to reopen, construction sites are shut down, and travellers from Britain and South Africa are required to produce a negative PCR test. There's a sense of deja vu as Irish people shrug their shoulders and get on with it, this time with less kitchen dancing videos on social media.

January 12th: The final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is published after five years. It finds 9,000 children died in the institutions and recommends a redress scheme be set up for the thousands of people affected. However, the report is immediately criticised for not reflecting the voices of many victims and survivors. Archivist and advocate Catríona Crowe says "serious questions" remain, and that survivors have been "re-traumatised" by the report.

January 20th: Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States, in a ceremony held amid huge security in Washington, DC, following the January 6th insurrection. Trump, who continues to refuse to accept the election result, does not attend.



February 1st: A coup in Myanmar sees the arrest of the country's democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a return to the military rule that prevailed in the country for 47 years. Suu Kyi's leadership was greatly flawed, but there's a sense that the country is going backwards again.

February 2nd: The Jerusalema Challenge reaches Ireland, as members of An Garda Síochána respond to a challenge from the Swiss federal police to lift the nation's spirits during lockdown by making a video of themselves dancing to the song Jerusalema, written by South African musician Master KG. The video, shot outdoors in various scenic locations, and with the dancers socially distanced, has become the most-liked Irish tweet of 2021.


March 14th: Gardaí confirm an investigation is under way into the 2019 leak of a confidential GP contract with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) by then taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The investigation is to determine whether Varadkar committed a crime in leaking the document to a friend, Maitiú Ó Tuathail, who was then head of a rival GP group. In April, Varadkar is interviewed by the gardaí in relation to the investigation.

March 17th: Taoiseach Micheál Martin makes a virtual visit to the White House for St Patrick's Day due to Covid-19 restrictions. He holds a virtual meeting with new US president Joe Biden and with vice-president Kamala Harris.

March 23rd: Global commerce is thrown into chaos when one of the world's largest container ships, the Ever Given, runs aground in the Suez Canal, blocking up the vital water route for six days. The Japanese-owned, Panama-registered vessel is freed following a massive salvage operation, and then held by canal authorities in a dispute over compensation.


April 10th: Tipperary jockey Rachael Blackmore wins the Grand National at Aintree on Minella Times, the first woman to do so in the race's history. Her win follows a spectacular performance at Cheltenham in March when she became the festival's first female top jockey with a total of six wins.

April 18th: Football executives, players and supporters cry foul at the announcement of a breakaway European Super League to rival the Champions League. The league is to feature only elite clubs, but following pressure from supporters, Premier League clubs Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea all pull out, forcing the organisers to abandon plans – for now.

April 26th: The 93rd Academy Awards are held in Union Station in Los Angeles, moved back from its usual February slot because of Covid-19. Chinese-born film-maker Chloe Zhao becomes the first woman of colour to win best director, for her film Nomadland. Nomadland also won best picture, and Anthony Hopkins becomes the oldest ever winner of the best actor award.


May 14th: A massive cyberattack cripples the HSE computer systems, forcing the cancellation of many hospital appointments, and causing concern as confidential patient details are subsequently leaked online. The ransomware attack by a criminal gang, known as Wizard Spider, causes the health service to shut down all its IT systems around the country.

May 22nd: The Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Rotterdam, following its cancellation in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ireland's entry, Maps, performed by Balbriggan singer-songwriter Lesley Roy, however, fails to make it past the semi-final stage.

May 23rd: A Ryanair passenger flight from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, is diverted to Belarus and forced to land in Minsk, where Belarusian authorities arrest a dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who were travelling on the plane. The incident is universally condemned by political leaders, and Ryanair's Michael O'Leary.


June 10th: Five hundred music fans gather at the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin for the first official in-person concert since the pandemic began, featuring James Vincent McMorrow and Sorcha Richardson. It's the first of a series of planned pilot concerts to test the waters for a full return for the live music sector, which has been among the hardest hit by Covid-19 restrictions.

June 26th: Matt Hancock resigns as Britain's health secretary after a video captured him breaching Covid-19 social distancing guidelines. Hancock, who is married with three children, was caught on video kissing his colleague, Gina Coladangelo, who is also married with three children.

June 15th: Thousands of protesters gather outside the Convention Centre in Dublin, where the Dáil is sitting, to demand 100 per cent redress for homeowners affected by the mica defective blocks crisis. Most of the protesters are from Mayo and Donegal – the hardest hit counties.


July 9th: Labour Party candidate Ivana Bacik wins a hotly contested seat in the Dublin Bay South byelection, taking the seat vacated by former Fine Gael minister for housing Eoghan Murphy. Voter turnout is low at just 35 per cent, but Fianna Fáil are forced to do a bit of soul-searching after getting less than 5 per cent of the votes.

July 23rd: Tokyo 2020 opens in Japan, a year after it was postponed due to Covid-19. The Olympics take place without live spectators. Ireland take home four medals, with Kellie Harrington winning gold in boxing, rowers Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy winning gold in the Double Sculls, Aidan Walsh winning bronze in boxing and rowers Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty winning bronze in the Women's Fours.

July 28th: The "Zapponeyism" controversy erupts, after it was revealed that former minister for children Katherine Zappone was being lined up for a specially created role as a special envoy to the UN. But Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney breached protocol by not informing Taoiseach Micheál Martin of the planned appointment. It all smacked of cronyism. The controversy was compounded when it emerged that Zappone held a function at the Merrion Hotel six days before the appointment that appeared to breach Covid-19 guidelines. Zappone later declines to take the special envoy job, citing political pressure.


August 15th: The fall of Kabul. With Joe Biden planning to pull US forces out of Afghanistan by September 11th, the Taliban sweep through the country, taking the capital, Kabul, with alarming speed, and meeting little to no resistance from a despondent Afghan army. A suicide bomber kills at least 182 people at Kabul airport, including 13 US personnel. The US completes it withdrawal by August 30th, bringing an ignoble end to America's longest war.

August 24th: The 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo open, and, like the Olympic Games, are held without spectators. Irish athletes bring home seven medals: four gold (swimmer Ellen Keane, sprinter Jason Smyth and tandem cyclists Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal) two silver (Dunlevy and McCrystal and swimmer Nicole Turner) and a bronze (hand-cyclist Gary O'Reilly).


September 5th: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's social life is back in the news, after he is photographed enjoying a music festival in London on the same weekend that Electric Picnic has been cancelled here. Varadkar's attendance at the Mighty Hoopla causes a mighty hoopla at home, and he is accused of being tone deaf to the plight of Ireland's live music sector, which has been effectively shut down for the past 18 months.

September 15th: President Michael D Higgins turns down an invitation to a special church service in Armagh to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland. The interdenominational service is organised by the leaders of the three main Christian churches in the North, and is to be attended by the queen. Higgins defends his refusal to attend, saying the event's title is "politicised" and it would be inappropriate for him to attend. Unionists criticise his decision. The queen cancels her appearance on medical advice.


October 3rd: The Pandora Papers are published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, detailing the offshore assets of billionaires, world leaders; including the king of Jordan, the president of Kenya, and the prime minister of the Czech Republic; and celebrities such as Shakira, Claudia Schiffer, Julio Iglesias and Ringo Starr.

October 7th: The Government finally agrees to sign up to the OECD's corporate tax reform deal, which calls for a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent. But Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe objected to the retention of the words "at least", suspecting this could open the door to rates being raised in the future, and only signed up to the deal when the ambiguous wording was taken out. He also secured an agreement that the 15 per cent rate would only be levied on large companies with a turnover of more than €750 million.

October 31st: World leaders gather in Glasgow for Cop26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to hammer out a deal to reduce emissions, tamp out fossil fuel burning, cut deforestation and keep global temperature down to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Easy peasy. Climate activist Greta Thunberg leads a protest outside the conference, where she condemns all the climate talk as "blah, blah, blah."


November 8th: A court finds three men guilty of false imprisonment and causing serious harm to businessman Kevin Lunney in September 2019. Lunney was abducted from his home near Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, tortured and told to resign from his position as chief operating officer of Quinn Industrial Holdings, now rebranded Mannok. In a victim-impact statement, Lunney says the assault "will remain with me and my family for the rest of our lives". The three men were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 18-30 years in December.

November 13th: It was the ultimate pandemic fever-dream: Ireland defeating the All Blacks in a full-capacity Aviva Stadium. It's the perfect lift to go with the lifting of restrictions, and fans savour the moment as Johnny Sexton leads the squad to Ireland's third victory over the mighty New Zealand. Ireland win 29-20, and set up what could become one of the most gripping rivalries in rugby.

November 24th: Just as society is starting to reopen, comes news of an even more transmissable variant of Covid-19, Omicron. Scientists in South Africa alert the world to this highly mutated variant, and their reward is to have every country banning flights to and from the country during the height of its tourist season. It is not clear if Omicron causes more severe symptoms of Covid, but the Irish Government ramps up its booster vaccine programme in a bid to outrun the new variant.


December 7th: Storm Barra batters the country with gusts of up to 160km/h, causing flooding in several counties and leaving about 65,000 homes without power. Meteorologist Evelyn Cusack describes Barra as a "weather bomb", and schools in red and orange alert zones are closed for two days while the storm passes through.

December 8th: Boris Johnson is embroiled in controversy over an alleged staff Christmas party in 10 Downing Street in December 2020, at the same time Britain was following strict rules covering social gatherings. Johnson apologises during prime minister's questions, but denies that the party – if there even was a party – breached Covid restrictions.