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Annus Horribilis

These are the winners and losers from the Irish political year

We take a look at who did well – and who didn’t fare brilliantly.

IT’S THAT TIME of year again, where we cast our eye back over the Irish political year to see who has weathered the storms successfully and who has struggled to keep their head above water. 

For the first time in two years, Irish politics was not solely dominated by the pandemic, with Ireland easing restrictions early in 2022. 

The housing crisis, Ukraine, the rising cost-of-living, and the energy crisis are just some of the issues politicians had to grapple with this year. 

So, let’s take a look back at 2022 to see who were Ireland’s political winners and losers of the year.

In no particular order…

WINNERS

Dara Calleary

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Dara Calleary fell on his sword within hours of it emerging that he had been in attendance at the Golfgate event in August 2020.

This year was a better one for the Mayo man as he finally got a ministry back – this time a junior one in the Department of Enterprise rather than Agriculture – and he managed to hold on to the job of Minister of State in the reshuffle. 

Calleary effectively benefitted from the trial of the Golfgate four ending in the charges being dismissed by a Galway judge

The deputy himself had been a witness during the trial and, after it ended, Micheál Martin gave a strong hint that there would be a way back into the fold for Calleary. And so it proved.  

Micheál Martin

TheJournal.ie / YouTube

Micheál Martin, whatever you may think of him, has managed to navigate the year without too many banana skins.

While he did miss out on meeting US President Joe Biden in the US when he got Covid-19, he also managed to avoid any knives being wielded at him from within his own party. 

Most taoisigh dream of leaving the top job of their own accord rather than being pushed, and while Martin probably would have liked to stick around a bit longer, he has moved aside to become Tánaiste rather seamlessly. 

The Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll last month showed Sinn Féin remains the most popular party at 34%, but the poll also showed that Martin’s rating has increased to 51% making him the most popular party leader. Surely Martin will be happy to finish the year off on that high. 

Violet Anne Wynne

Violet-Anne Wynne made history in September by being the first politician to bring their baby into the Dáil chamber. 

During the Dáil proceedings, Ceann Comhairle Séan Ó Fearghaíl welcomed Wynne back to work at Leinster House. 

She then received a cross-party round of applause as she stood holding the baby at the back of the chamber. 

“We’re seeing a bit of history being made tonight,” Ó Fearghaíl said. 

“Baby Collins is the first actual baby to join us here in the house,” he joked. 

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Patrick Costello 

Not many people take on the State in the Supreme Court and win.

In November, the highest court in the land ruled that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) cannot be ratified by the Oireachtas unless legislation is changed.

The seven-judge court made the ruling in a challenge taken against the State by Green Party TD Patrick Costello, who had argued that Ceta is unconstitutional.

This decision has now put the coalition on a collision course for next year. 

Heather Humphreys

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The Fine Gael TD from Monaghan has had a good year. 

Humphreys’ success this year has been down to her wins in the budget, where she managed to get increases across the board for the majority of social welfare payments, though some will say they do not go far enough.

The minister also grasped the nettle of the pensions issues, laying out a plan for the future as well as committing to social welfare reforms which will link payments to previous earnings. All in all not a bad year for Humphreys. 

Tom Clonan

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Security analyst and columnist for The Journal, Tom Clonan, has had a good year having been elected as Ireland’s latest Senator following the Trinity Seanad by-election.

Clonan said he wasn’t at the count centre when he was announced the winner because he wasn’t expecting to be elected, and he had previous obligations to meet whistleblowers in Cork. 

Clonan is a retired army officer and has long been among the foremost advocates for the Defence Forces. Now, in a year that has seen war in mainland Europe, Clonan has cemeneted himself as one of the countries strongest voices on national security matters.

Clonan is also a passionate disability campaigner and advocate.  

Michelle O’Neill

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Sinn Féin’s deputy leader hasn’t yet become the first ever nationalist First Minister of Northern Ireland but that’s only because the DUP refuses to engage with forming a government. 

Michelle O’Neill did her bit by leading her party to the largest share of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, again the first time this has been achieved by a nationalist party. 

O’Neill previously served as Deputy First Minister alongside the DUP’s Arlene Foster and earned plaudits for managing to keep the Executive in place during the teeth of the Covid crisis. 

In the early days after replacing Martin McGuinness as the party’s leader in Stormont in 2017 there were questions over how she was filling those shoes. O’Neill even faced a challenge from John O’Dowd MLA in late 2019 but since seeing off that leadership big her stock has arguably never been higher. 

LOSERS 

Robert Troy 

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In a literal sense, Robert Troy is a clear loser after losing his position as a Minister of State when he resigned amid revelvations over his property dealings. 

Over the summer, pressure on the embattled Troy took its toll over his ‘omitted’ property declarations

Troy has faced controversy over failing to declare all of his property dealings to the Dáil’s register of members’ interests, as first reported by The Ditch website. 

In further revelations, he was forced to make various amendments to the Dáil register and admitted that he owns or part-owns 11 properties. It didn’t exactly elicited violins amid a housing crisis. 

Mary Lou McDonald

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There is no doubt about it that when it comes to the polls, Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin are riding high, staying strong at around 34%, as stated above. But in the latest poll, her own popularity has slipped. 

Towards the end of this year, the Sinn Féin president has faced questions about her own patch in Dublin Central due to the ongoing Gerry Hutch trial and the involvement of Jonathan Dowdall, who was previously a Sinn Féin councillor in the area.  

The Sinn Féin leader has told this website that she was “profoundly shocked” to hear that Dowdall was involved in gangland crime but this hasn’t stopped questions.

McDonald herself was even mentioned in a conversation between Hutch and Dowdall that was secretly recorded by gardaí and relayed in court. 

Although this is a single issue, it represents a backwards step for a politician that was among our Winners in 2020 and 2021. While her party may be pleased with how the year has gone, the Dowdall issue has denied McDonald a three-peat

Alan Kelly and Ivana Bacik 

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It was a tumultuous year for the Labour Party, with party leader Alan Kelly being ousted by his colleagues in March. 

His resignation speech outside Leinster House after his parliamentary colleagues had told him they had lost confidence in his leadership was cleary emotional for the Tipperary man, who said it had been the honour of his life to lead the party.

He is known for his at-times combative exchanges in the Dail, but is also well regarded for bringing key issues to the fore, particularly when it came to health and scandals such as CervicalCheck. 

Despite this, his own party moved quickly when he failed to reverse the party’s static polling rates.

However, while the party may have thought that this decisive mood would give them a bounce of some kind, the party continues to hover in the low single-digits in the polls in recent months. Not a good year for either Alan, Ivana or the Labour Party. 

Marc MacSharry 

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MacSharry resigned from Fianna Fáil this year over the party’s handling of a bullying complaint. He had been due to re-join the party after he resigned last year ahead of a no-confidence motion in Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD confirmed his resignation in a strongly worded statement, saying his decision to quit was due to Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s handling of the complaint from Fianna Fáil councillor Donal Gilroy. 

He accused Martin of using the complaint “for political gain at national level”.

Later, the TD had to deal with a complaint being made by Independent TD Thomas Pringle after MacSharry accused Catherine Connolly of ‘discrimination’ by consistently putting him at the bottom of the speaking order.

Darragh O’Brien

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Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is the minister is the spotlight the last 12 months as house prices, rents and homeless figures continue to rise. Before the year was out the minister also faced down a no confidence motion.

Pressure is mounting on the government to make real momentum when it comes to housing delivery next year. The minister will be hoping he’ll make it on to the winner’s list, if he can pull it off in 2023. 

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