The year in review
We may as well ignore chronology here and skip to the seismic events at the end of the year that re-shaped everything we thought we knew about our economy and politics. In November, Taoiseach Brian Cowen denies Ireland has approached Europe for emergency funds. Within a week, Ireland accepts the EU/IMF bailout and the Government is thrown into crisis when the Green Party calls for a General Election.
The Government publishes a €15bn plan for drastic savings as the enormity of our debt burden hits home. Fianna Fáil accepts huge damage has been done to the party, the true extent of which is revealed within months in the 2011 General Election (more on that in our review of that year).
Banking report authors Klaus Regling and Max Watson confirm that "everybody missed" the signs, even in 2006, that a soft landing of the property bubble was no longer possible here.
They also confirm that “Ireland’s banking crisis bears the clear imprint of global influences, yet it was in crucial ways ’home-made’.”
Their report found that careful management and supervision of the public finances and banking sector could have helped steer the country towards a "soft landing" when the recession came. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, says Brian Lenihan.
In September, Brian Cowen hits international headlines when he is forced to deny being drunk or hungover during a live morning radio interview on RTE's Morning Ireland. Close Cabinet colleagues rally to his defense, and he says he is the victim of a “pathetic” stunt by political rivals.
Earlier in the year, he appears genuinely stung by Eamon Gilmore’s accusation of “economic treason”. Beyond the pale, says Cowen.
The writing is on the wall for Brian Cowen’s tenure as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil, but he finishes the year still occupying both positions.
George Lee causes his own political upset, after what he says is a lack of involvement in Fine Gael economic policy-formation. His short-lived political career ends in February. In June, there is a fundamental upheaval in the party when a failed leadership heave against Enda Kenny reveals a steely side to the man from Mayo. He sees off Richard Bruton’s effort at a coup, and sacks Bruton as finance spokesman. In steps Michael Noonan, on his way to a political comeback just as Fine Gael’s star is rising.
The political arena offers up one more saga this year, as Senator Ivor Callely is suspended from the Seanad without pay for 20 days after an inquiry into his expenses found he intentionally misrepresented where he lived for the purpose of claiming allowances, worth €81,000.
A subsequent High Court ruling finds the Seanad Committee investigating his expenses acted outside its powers and breached the Senator’s constitutional rights by suspending him.
Clearly then, there was a lot of anger, accusation and acrimony about, so what was cheering us up this year?
Reasons to smile
Well, there was the epic story of the Chilean miners, trapped underground for more than two months when a rock collapse blocked the San Jose mine's exit shaft on August 5. A nearly flawless rescue operation brought the 33 miners to the surface, one by one, for intensely emotional reunions with their families.
The little Benhaffaf twins had us smiling too. Hussein and Hassan – the ‘Little Fighters’ as mum Angie and dad Azzedine called them – were conjoined at birth, and undergo surgery to separate them at five months old. The speed of their recovery astonishes their doctors at London’s Great Ormond Street, and they arrive home in May to a joyous reception.
Mary Byrne’s performance on X Factor raises our spirits too. Though she doesn’t make the final, she sends shivers up our spines with her huge voice and note-perfect performances. Go Mary! (we said)
By far and away the main sporting event for us this year is Graeme McDowell’s famous US Open win – until he seals the Ryder Cup for Europe that is, with a nerve-shredding winning putt. We now know it was only the beginning of an incredible period in Irish golf. Sincere thanks (for cheering us up) and hip-hips to the three legends, G-Mac, Rory and Darren…
Paul the Octopus was good for a bit of diversion in the World Cup, given that we weren’t in it ourselves. Spain win it for the first time.
Greece’s bailout in May, and our own at the end of the year, were far from the only shocks this year. For sheer ‘bolt-from-the-blue’ impact, it was hard to top statements in January from Iris and Peter Robinson that revealed her affair with a young lover, and subsequent deep depression and suicide attempt. The couple resolve to stay together, but even their closest colleagues and political rivals were said to be reeling at the revelations.
This year sees a number of tragic natural disasters too, with a devastating earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan.
Gerry Ryan’s death is another jolt. His many loyal regular listeners mourn the man Bono describes as the nation’s weathervane.
Tiger Woods issues a statement of apology and regret after the previous year’s sensational revelations of affairs and deceit. He and wife Elin are working on their marriage, he says. The couple have since divorced.
Across the pond, William pops the question to Kate Middleton, setting up the wedding of 2011, and an election sees Gordon Brown’s Labour pushed out, as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats enter government in coalition.
Back home, ash clouds from an unpronounceable volcano in Iceland (Eyjafjallajokull) ground hundreds of flights. In July, the Civil Partnership Bill passes into law and in September, ‘Anglo avenger’ and property developer Joe McNamara drives a cement lorry emblazoned with the words “Toxic Bank” and “Anglo” at the gates of Leinster House. In another protest, he parks a cherry picker emblazoned with more slogans at the gates of the Dáil. And they say we Irish have no appetite for protest!