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These are the winners and losers from the Irish political year

Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’ll still be around this time next year?

Image: PA Images

SWING-GATE, VOTE-GATE, FOB-GATE and the ever-mounting spend on the National Children’s Hospital are just some of the issues that have dominated Irish politics this year. 

In what has been somewhat of a lacklustre 12 months in Leinster House, all political parties have had their eyes on the clock, considering when might be the best time to cut and run, leave ‘new politics’ behind, and head to the polls. 

Election speculation is set to continue into the new year, when the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil meet up for a cuppa to decide if they can keep this government chugging along until May. 

But before we start looking ahead, let’s take a look back at 2019 to see who are Ireland’s political winners and losers of the year.

In no particular order:

WINNERS

Simon Coveney 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney might have had a bad year in 2017 when he lost out to Leo Varadkar during the Fine Gael leadership contest and presided over the housing and homelessness crisis. Who could have guessed that he would see the praise heaped on him for leading Ireland’s Brexit charge by end-2019?

While the people of Cork South-Central might not have seen much of him in the last year, props go to the Rebel TD for being the steady hand needed at the helm of the Brexit negotiations. When the UK voted to leave the EU, many moons ago, Northern Ireland, and what it would mean for the Republic of Ireland featured little in the debate. 

Fast forward 36 months, and what would happen along the border in the North became the most contentious issue in the Brexit talks. While some may argue that Boris Johnson’s deal is far worse for Ireland than Theresa May’s deal, Coveney does deserve credit in being calm, and avoiding the whole ‘foot-in-mouth’ issue that can so often trip Irish politicians up on the world stage. 

Micheál Martin

Fianna Fáil was all-but-annihilated at the ballot box in 2010, as the electorate vented its fury at the Brian Cowen-led government for its handling of the economic crash.

Martin, seen as a safe pair of hands, has fought his way out of wilderness and rebuilt the party to where it is today. Neck-and-neck with Fine Gael in the latest polls. A decade is a long time in politics, it seems. 

tree lights 726 Michael Martin beside Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald at the turning on of the Christmas lights at Leinster House. Source: sam boal

A strong performer in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions, he has held Leo Varadkar to account on issues such as the CervicalCheck scandal and the rising cost of insurance, as well as housing and homelessness. 

Despite some discontent from within his own party for signing up to another year of the confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael, Martin has managed to drag his party with him, with little push-back for the move, other than from TD John McGuinness.

Whether he can sell the same deal in January will be another matter, but Martin is in a uniquely powerful position in the current political set-up heading into the next general election. 

Eoin Ó Broin and Pearse Doherty (Joint award)

The Sinn Féin spokespeople for housing and finance have managed to be both passionate about their briefs, while also explaining concisely the facts, figures and stats relating to the housing and homelessness crisis and the problems with and within the insurance industry. 

9199 Billboard Housing crisis Source: Leah Farrell

Ó Broin finished off the year with a big win in getting the Dáil (and even Fianna Fáil) to support his rent freeze Bill. 

Doherty has been a voice of reason for the thousands of people who have seen their insurance premiums rise.

If he’s not shouting loudly in the Dáil, Doherty can be found the Oireachtas Finance Committee grilling bankers about not paying tax on their profits and selling off their customers’ loans to vulture funds, or else questioning insurance bosses about practices such as dual-pricing and not reporting fraudulent claims to the gardaí.  

Eamon Ryan

This year, the Greens in Ireland went from zero to two MEP seats in the European elections and from 12 councillors to 49 – two big wins for a party that was struggling to stay on the map. 

With just two TDs in the Dáil (including himself), the party is set to make strides in the next general election by riding the green wave that has swept across the country.

green party 313 Source: Rollingnews.ie

Ryan says he has ambitious strategies and ideas, but will he get to use them in the next government?

(Special mention for throwing out the idea of bringing wolves back to Ireland following a podcast from TheJournal.ie).


Source: Ireland 2029/SoundCloud

Catherine Connolly 

Independent TD Catherine Connolly gets the nod for her stellar work in the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The Galway TD, who is often underrated, packs a punch when grilling witnesses, and is constantly calling for accountability when it comes to the mismanagement of State funding.

PAC REPORT  758A7104 Galway TD Catherine Connolly Source: PA Images

She regular highlights housing concerns and was a constant part of the conversation around the cost of the National Children’s Hospital, as well as issues relating to the redress for abuse survivors. She can also often be spotted giving the Taoiseach a dressing down in the Dáil.

Losers 

Maria Bailey 

You know when you’re in the midst of a political scandal when the word ‘gate’ gets added on at the end of some controversy.

RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke has never heard his name uttered so many times in one sitting, as Bailey, a Dun Laoghaire TD for Fine Gael, attempted to explain away ‘swing-gate’ on the airwaves. 

MARIA BAILEY_90548626 Source: Leah Farrell

With what has been described as probably one of the worst car crash political interviews Ireland has heard, Bailey did herself no favours.

Following the radio appearance, her own colleagues left her side, all struggling to defend her. Next, she was removed from her chairmanship of a number of committees. And then came her de-selection from the Fine Gael ticket for the next election. Animus horribilis.

Timmy Dooley, Niall Collins, Lisa Chambers (Vote-gate TDs)

There was another controversy that dominated the headlines this year, and it involved a number of naughty TDs who didn’t sit in the correct seats in the Dáil chamber. 

The scandal dominated the political agenda in October, when it emerged Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins had pressed the voting button of his colleague Timmy Dooley in the Dáil six times in one session.

pjimage-827-390x285-390x285 Source: Rollingnews.ie

It resulted in both men being removed from the party’s front bench. 

Lisa Chambers was also caught up in the matter. 

Chambers made an admission at the time that she also voted for one of her absent colleagues during the same session, before pushing her own button.

She accidentally sat in Dara Calleary’s seat, she explained, but she accepted that she should have told the teller so that the record could be corrected. More details have now emerged about her voting for Dooley. 

While Chambers is to get an official warning, the ramifications or sanctions for Dooley and Collins won’t be revealed until the new year. 

Eoghan Murphy 

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has had a bad run of it. While the Taoiseach has defended the government’s housing record, the figures can’t be shied away from.

The latest from the Department of Housing shows that 10,514 people were in emergency accommodation in Ireland in October, including 6,688 adults and 3,826 children. The have raised month-on-month since Murphy took over the ministry. 

an-taoiseach-launches-progress-report-on-the-climate-action-plan-2019 Source: PA Wire/PA Images

The opposition is also constantly questioning the reliability of the housing figures put out in the public domain. Not to mention the minister’s utterances in relation to affordability, co-living and about how rent controls are working. 

Throw in a motion of no confidence at the end of this year (one which was narrowly defeated) it has not been a good year for the minister. 

Verona Murphy 

The future looked bright for Fine Gael’s Wexford by-election candidate earlier this year.

However, it all went downhill for Murphy when she ran a controversial by-election campaign which saw her come in for sustained criticism for a series of comments about migrants.

Speaking to South East Radio last week, Murphy said she has been called a racist for “raising security issues”, adding: “Do we have to wait for a London Bridge incident on Wexford Bridge?” 

file-photo-fine-gael-is-preparing-to-dump-verona-murphy-as-a-general-election-candidate-following-her-disastrous-campaign-in-wexford-end Source: RollingNews.ie

She was dropped from the Fine Gael ticket for the upcoming general election last week, with the Taoiseach telling reporters that he is glad that she wasn’t elected.

The only one in the party who appears to have a kind word to say about her is Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who called her after her defeat to ask if she was okay. 

Nigel Dodds

In what some have dubbed as the shock of the Northern Ireland election, in North Belfast, Sinn Féin’s John Finucane defeated DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds by almost 2,000 votes.

While the party failed to take unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon’s seat in North Down, and lost Emma Little Pengelly’s seat in Belfast South to the SDLP’s Claire Hanna, the upset caused by Dodds’ defeat appears to be a culmination in things turning sour for the DUP.

Throw in that the party is now being blamed on all sides for not getting Stormont back up and running, the Dodds loss cements what has ended up being a bad year for the party. 

What do you make of our assessment? Have your say in the comments section below.

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