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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.

Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

WHAT A YEAR.

No one could have expected the year that would be 2020. When politicians were pounding the streets and pressing the flesh in the run up to February’s general election, it could not have been predicted that we would be ending the year in a pandemic.

While last year’s political scene was dominated by swing-gate, vote-gate, and fob-gate, the issues that have dominated Irish politics this year include – of course – the Covid-19 crisis, Golfgate, the election (remember that?), the Leaving Cert cancellation, as well as Brexit. 

Everyone is hoping for a better 2021 – one where we can get back to focusing on the problems that still very much impact this country, such as housing and the healthcare system.

But before we start looking ahead, let’s take a look back at 2020 to see who were Ireland’s political winners and losers of the year.

In no particular order:

WINNERS

Simon Harris

The year began with the Government facing a no-confidence motion in Minister for Health Simon Harris. Fast forward just over a month or so, and the health minister was the one tasked with dealing with the outbreak of a global pandemic.

His communication skills (whether you liked what he was saying or not) were on point, and they played a key role in explaining clearly what was going on, and what the government was planning to do about it. 

NO FEE MIN HARRIS GOV BUILDINGS JB2

Regardless of dealing with the onset of the pandemic, Harris is a winner for actually escaping health (to become Minister for Further and Higher Education) and actually still being liked – something many former health ministers will confirm is a challenge.

Mary Lou McDonald

Her party Sinn Féin had a magnificent election, but could have won more seats had it fielded more candidates. After a bad local election result, the party was perhaps a bit bruised, and maybe didn’t envisage its general election success.

McDonald says she wants to be Taoiseach one day, but might find it hard if no other party talks to her – which was the narrative after this year’s election. Opposition is where Mary Lou finds herself now, and with the high poll numbers experienced recently, she must be quite comfortable. 

8854 Sinn Fein Budget Source: LEAH FARRELL

Yes, the party has certainly had its growing pains, what with newly elected TDs, who probably never expected to find themselves in Leinster House after the election making some slip ups. There were also more experienced ones such as Brian Stanley and David Cullinane having some questions to answer. But all in all, McDonald can probably look back at this year as a big political win. 

Micheal Martin

While the poll numbers for his party Fianna Fáil are not great, Micheál has made it to the Taoiseach’s office. 

Of course, it is not probably not what he imagined it to be. The pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic are bound to have added to his already intense workload.

taoiseach-press-briefing Source: TOM HONAN

He’s nearly 10 years as leader of the Fianna Fáil party, a party that he had to rebuild from the ashes of the economic collapse. It might not be the ideal first year in the job, but he is in the role after a long wait – we can call that a win.

Alan Kelly

Another politician who had to wait around for a while. The Tipperary TD has long eyed up the role of leader of the Labour Party. He hasn’t been shy about it either, once even giving his predecessor a time limit to when he should scoot off. 

Kelly has the job of rebuilding Labour, a party that has been punished at the ballot boxes for going in with Fine Gael. Fianna Fáilers will be watching on, but Kelly has made good strides in picking important areas that highlight the government’s failings in the past, such as CervicalCheck and other health matters.

Richard Boyd Barrett 

He’s been loud over the year, but he’s been good at ruffling Micheal’s feathers and getting him to trip up and say  the bailout didn’t happen. Also for raising workers rights keeping nurse’s pay and Debenhams on the agenda.

Holly Cairns

It’s been a pretty big year for up-and-coming politician Cairns, who is in the Dáil for the first time. It can be easy for new TDs to get lost in the fray, but she chose to be outspoken about topics that really got people exercised, like greyhound racing and parental leave for politicians. As the only female TD in Cork city and county, she was cognisant of the importance of her role – and wasn’t afraid to challenge people in high places when they sent insults her way. 

LOSERS

Phil Hogan

005 Hogan RTE Source: RollingNews.ie

‘Big Phil’ had a big year but not in the way that he would have hoped.

At one point he was EU Trade Commissioner and was toying with the idea of running for the top job in the World Trade Organisation. But, as they say, the bigger they are the harder they fall and Hogan fell about as hard as anyone from Golfgate. 

He might have got away with his presence at the controversial golf dinner until it came out that he travelled all around Ireland from a locked-down Kildare. Once Ursula von der Leyen got involved his job looked in jeopardy – and so it proved.  

Dara Calleary

PastedImage-40854 Source: RollingNews.ie

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

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The Fianna Fáil stalwart had only been Agriculture Minister a matter of weeks and, although there remains sympathy for him in political circles, staying at the dinner and not leaving was a pretty foolish and avoidable error. 

Doubly so considering he’d initially been snubbed from Micheál Martin’s first Cabinet before benefitting from the misfortune of another Soldier of Destiny. 

Barry Cowen

PastedImage-65599 Source: Rollingnews.ie

Which brings us to Barry Cowen, whose tenure as Agriculture Minister was even shorter than Calleary’s. Cowen was sacked following the controversy surrounding a previously unreported drink-driving ban from 2016. 

It had seemed like Cowen was going to survive the controversy until a garda report “raised addtional issues”, so said the Taoiseach. With his boss wanting him to answer further questions in the Dáil and Cowen refusing, the Offaly man was given the boot

Eamon Ryan

PastedImage-65470 Source: RollingNews.ie

It may be a curious selection after his party had its best ever election result back in February, but Eamon Ryan’s party is in the process of pulling itself apart at the seams

The Greens are in government and will no doubt hope to focus on their agenda once Covid is over, but the question will be how united will be to make that happen. 

Ryan was re-elected as leader in July after a constitutionally-mandated ballot but he got over the line by fewer than 50 votes, not exactly a ringing endorsement.  

Brian Stanley

Brian Stanley 003 Source: Oireachtas.ie

While the Greens are adjusting to senior hurling in government, Sinn Féin is also learning that it will face additional scrutiny as the largest party in opposition.

Brian Stanley may have clung onto his high-profile position as chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) but his name and reputation have taken a bit of a battering as a result of some questionable tweets. 

When you’re explaining you’re losing, and Stanley has had to do a lot of explaining over his tweets about an IRA attack and another about Leo Varadkar.  

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

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