THE PROMISSORY NOTE abolished, abortion legislated for, the Seanad saved and the bailout exited – just some of the events that stood out in 2013.
It’s been a year in which Ireland made steady progress economically and dealt with the thorny issue of abortion, among lots and lots of other rows, flashpoints and ongoing stories that will run into 2014 and beyond.
We’ve narrowed it down to eight key moments and events that we felt defined the political year of 2013 and told us a lot about the state of the country, its politicians and its parties.
1. Wednesday, 6 February: The night we all went to ‘Prom’
The dramatic decision to liquidate the former Anglo Irish Bank as part of a deal to scrap the promissory note led to the all-night Dáil sitting that became known as ‘Prom Night’.
The legislation was rushed through and with the bank liquidated the government was able to get the ECB to agree that the promissory note deal – €31 billion in payments in respect of Anglo for the next ten years – was scrapped and replaced with a repayment structure involving long-term sovereign bonds.
This was either an almighty coup by the government or a three-card trick, if you believe the opposition. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
One thing is certain, this was a big event in Irish history as the toxic Anglo is no more and the move was, by many commentators at least, perceived to have been a good moment for the government.
This was also the night in which the issue of the Dáil bar being open until the early hours was put under the spotlight and not for the last time in 2013.
2. Thursday, 28 March: The Meath-East by-election count
An undoubted success for at least one government party was the Meath East by-election, brought about by the tragic death of Shane McEntee. His daughter Helen retained the seat for Fine Gael after a largely uneventful campaign.
But more notable was Labour’s (and its runaway candidate Eoin Holmes, below) dreadful fifth-placed finish, behind the newly-formed Direct Democracy Ireland, which raised real questions about the party’s future in the coalition government.
It appears to have recovered towards the end of this year – if opinion polls are to be believed – but the next key test will be the local and European elections at the end of May 2014.
Meath East was also notable for Fianna Fáil’s recovery as Senator Thomas Byrne was just pipped to the post by McEntee, while Sinn Féin put in a good showing though some felt it should have done better than 13 per cent.
3. Thursday, 16 May: The night Alan Shatter slipped-up on Prime Time
Alan Shatter has had to spend quite a bit of time this year addressing the alleged widespread abuse of the penalty points systems with one report highlighting very questionable reasons for points being cancelled.
He continues to insist that an internal garda report shows no widespread wrongdoing or evidence of corruption. But the Justice Minister also got himself into hot water when he claimed Mick Wallace had benefitted from garda discretion in a debate with the independent TD on live television. He later apologised.
At various points this year independent TDs and others on the opposition benches have raised the penalty points issue, naming some high-profile individuals who have benefitted from garda discretion.
With no satisfactory conclusion reached in the eyes of many, this one is likely to run.
- Read: ‘Do I think it was a mistake to mention the incident surrounding Deputy Wallace? …Of course I do’
4. Monday, 24 June: The day the Anglo Tapes were revealed
There was much political fallout from the Irish Independent’s huge scoop of recordings from former Anglo executives, including David Drumm, in the days and months around the bank guarantee of 2008.
Everyone was quick to express their outrage or revulsion or both and the story had global impact as well as pressing the government into action on a banking inquiry which now looks set to take place at some point next year.
5. Wednesday, 10 July: The day the abortion bill was debated all-night
There were many spin-off stories from the abortion debate which dominated the first half of 2013.
The debates in the Oireachtas, and particularly the all-night debate in July, were notable for the repetition, the graphic language and the late-night sitting with yet more questions about whether it is appropriate for TDs to have access to alcohol until 5am in the morning.
6. Saturday, 5 September: The day Enda Kenny got a political wallop
Enda Kenny’s political wallop was a surprise given the opinion polls showed the referendum was set to pass but voters often only engage with these topics in the days and hours leading up to the vote and so it proved to be the case here.
The campaign was notable for Fine Gael’s questionable claims about cost, Labour’s divided stance on the vote, and the re-emergence of the likes of Michael McDowell to defend the upper house. It was not a vintage campaign but it had its moments.
In the end the voters’ decision to retain the upper house has left the government scrambling to reform it. There have so far been no changes in the way the Seanad does its business although some have been promised.
7. Tuesday, 15 October: The day that Budget 2014 was delivered
What the Seanad campaign did do was helpfully distract everyone from the Budget which was no doubt the government’s intention.
As it happened, there wasn’t much in the way of controversy about the financial measures when they were delivered. In fact, Budget 2014 was a fairly anodyne affair, without the political controversy caused in recent years.
Labour appeared to get its way on reducing the adjustment to €2.5 billion (though that was more likely a bit of heavy spin and not an actual €600 million saving on the original €3.1 billion) while all government TDs and Senators voted with the measures.
Some of the more controversial cuts – such as the dole reduction for under 26s and the questionable health targets – may yet cause controversy, particularly health when we see how the HSE service plan is implemented on a practical level. But the government will have been happy that it got the last of the really difficult budgets through without much controversy.
8. Sunday, 15 December: The day Ireland formally exited the bailout
The final big event of this year was the bailout exit, sovereignty regained, or not as some would have it and they’d have a point when, as Joan Burton pointed out to us, we will still be “heavily overseen” by the Troika.
The truth is that the ending of the EU/IMF programme doesn’t have much benefit for ordinary folk, but it’s good politics. What was certainly political was the decision to exit without a precautionary credit line to avoid talk of ‘Bailout II’.
So, this was a good moment for the government and it will hope it stays that way as long bond yields remain low, the economy grows and there are no external events which impact here i.e. more problems in the other bailed-out countries or low growth in the wider eurozone.
Not a big ask then.
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