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TIME Magazine Enda Kenny on the cover of TIME magazine in October
review 2012

TIME cover boy and Savita: How the world saw Ireland in 2012

Compared to last year this was not Ireland’s best year in the eyes of the international media which focussed on the very different circumstances of two stars of the Celtic Tiger and Ireland’s strict abortion laws…

WHILE LAST YEAR’S historic visits of Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama drew plenty of positive coverage of Ireland, this year the world’s media organisations were drawn to our shores by death, controversy and corruption.

Undoubtedly the domestic story which garnered the most international attention was that of the death of Savita Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital at the end of October which only came to light after being reported in the Irish Times on 14 November.

The story quickly drew international attention as the paper reported that Savita and her husband had asked for an abortion but were denied one, being allegedly told by one hospital staff member that “this is a Catholic country”.

Though that claim has not yet been established as full fact it has been repeated around the world and was the comment that most of the international media focussed on.

Most international news organisations took the view that the Indian dentist was denied an abortion that could have saved her life. Only in recent weeks have columnists, like The Telegraph’s Cristina Odone, focussed on the more puzzling and less clear aspects of the Savita case.

The Guardian was among the first to pick up the story with Ben Quinn writing about the case which “sparked an outcry on Wednesday night” as the news broke on the frontpages of the following day’s newspapers.

Before long the story was being covered by publications around the world as Sinead O’Carroll reported in the days after the Savita case first emerged with IBN India, in Savita’s home country, broadcasting this report from “Catholic Ireland”:


But the Savita case was not the only one to draw negative international attention.

The demise of businessman Seán Quinn and the charging of former Anglo chief Seán FitzPatrick with criminal offences were two other cases which received plenty of column inches beyond our shores.

Both figures, who were lauded during the Celtic Tiger, now find themselves in entirely different circumstances with Quinn currently in jail for contempt of court while Seán FitzPatrick prepares for a trial in the new year where he and two other former Anglo executives face charges of providing unlawful financial assistance.

Quinn - once lauded in Forbes magazine – was the subject of a lengthy piece in the New York Times in January which was headlined ‘The Fall of Ireland’s Mighty Quinn’. Doreen Carvajal wrote of the a global treasure hunt now being undertaken by the former Anglo Irish Bank in a bid to recoup the billions it says it is owed by the Quinn family.

“Here in Dublin, at the financial institution formerly known as the Anglo Irish Bank, Mr. Quinn’s skeptical bankers say his assertions are, well, blarney,” she wrote, interviewing Quinn’s daughters who strongly defended their father.

Speaking of Anglo, the FitzPatrick case brought international coverage which broadly focused on the extent to which the bank was responsible for Ireland’s current malaise as Paul Hyland summarised in July.

The importance of the story was underlined by the fact that the likes of Reuters and Bloomberg were covering it. Even the German version of EuroNews filed this brief video report :


If the plight of the two Seáns was hardly showing Ireland in the best light at least Enda Kenny on the cover of TIME magazine in October with the headline ‘The Celtic Comeback’ had the country portrayed in a very positive light.

Though this was a positive portrayal of Ireland it was, in many people’s eyes, a far cry from the reality as was noted by commentators and independent TD Mattie McGrath who wasn’t sure which international magazine our Taoiseach was appearing on much to the amusement of everyone:

Indeed the reality of the current economic turmoil in this country has a lot to do with the property boom, a boom aided by the type of corruption uncovered by the Mahon Tribunal, which reported in March of this year, and had widespread repercussions for the political world here, particularly Fianna Fáil.

Those kind of repercussions don’t go unnoticed and it was the finding that Bertie Ahern lied to the Tribunal which led to the former taoiseach resigning from the party (though he rejected Mahon’s findings) and drew a smattering of international coverage with Al Jazeera describing Ahern as “graft-tainted” in a story that included a picture of him with Tony Blair in better days.

As if to underline the international impact of Bertie’s demise his profiles on the Speakers’ Associates and the Washington Speakers’ Bureau websites were removed in April, a spokesman for the former telling us: “We’re not judging but at the moment lots of people advised us to take his profile off.”

It was the building and property boom under Bertie and those in Fianna Fáil who followed him which led to the construction of places like Priory Hall in north Dublin.

Now a derelict apartment complex that has been evacuated since late 2011, the plight of Priory Hall’s residents drew the attention of the New York Times reporter Sarah Lyall in September.

“To visit Graham Usher’s dream apartment in Priory Hall, the most notorious of Ireland’s ruined ghost developments, is to see what Ireland aspired to be, and what it became instead,” she wrote, noting the “outrageousness” of the residents’ plight.

Though much of the world’s media has focussed on negative stories from Ireland this year, we will try to end on a positive note and that is the truly historic handshake between Queen Elizabeth II and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness in June which captured the world’s attention.

It was a shining example of how peace, albeit frayed in recent weeks, can lead to previously unthinkable events. CNN explored the significance of it:

YouTube: CNNInternational

Last year: Obama, Cloyne and an ‘elderly poet’: how the world’s media saw Ireland in 2011

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