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Thursday 30 October 2014

Historic handshakes, tax cheats and tragedy - the year in politics

IT was the year Enda Kenny's Government fell back down to earth and the recession showed no sign of ending

EUROPE kept giving us the run-around on our bank debt and a few old skeletons came tumbling out of the closet. So what were the flashpoint moments that defined Irish politics in 2012 -- and what might they mean for the battles that lie ahead in 2013?

January 26 - Enda's gaffe

Enda Kenny may have assumed that the cameras were off when he told a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland that Ireland's economy had crashed because "people went mad borrowing".

That wouldn't have been so bad, except that just a few weeks previously he had assured us, "You are not responsible for this crisis" during his televised state-of-the-nation address.

It was an embarrassing episode that exposed one of Kenny's key weaknesses: instead of making hard choices, he prefers to tell audiences what he thinks they want to hear.

This tactic has already worn pretty thin -- and it certainly won't be good enough for another year.

March 22 -- Mahon Report out

Bertie Ahern lied through his teeth, over and over again. That was a snap summary of the Mahon Tribunal's report on planning corruption, which took forever to arrive and cost a fortune but turned out to be political dynamite.

As well as condemning the former Teflon Taoiseach for his bizarre personal finances, it also found that other Fianna Fail luminaries such as Pee Flynn had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Amazingly, the Soldiers of Destiny are apparently recovering despite this hammer blow -- but Mahon has proved that only the younger generation can give them a proper future.

May 31 -- Ireland votes Yes in the EU fiscal compact referendum

After a spectacularly bad-tempered campaign, the Irish people endorsed a treaty that gave the EU more control of our budgets in exchange for access to new bailout funds.

This result did not just confirm our status as the posters boy of Europe. It also meant that Enda Kenny had no more excuses in his ongoing quest to secure some kind of write-down on Ireland's devastating bank debt. The Taoiseach has been grovelling long enough -- so in 2013 he must tell Angela Merkel that it's payback time.

June 7 -- Mick Wallace admits that he cheated the taxman of €1.4m

Mick Wallace's fall from grace was by no means the only low point for Independent TDs in 2012. Joe Higgins became embroiled in a row over his travel expenses, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan acted like a spoilt brat over the Dail dress code and Clare Daly resigned from the Socialist Party in frustration at their lack of progress.

However, the revelation that Wallace had not paid his company VAT returns did not just turn the pink-shirted builder into a laughing stock -- it also threatened to discredit the entire Technical Group. More unity and less posturing will be required if they want to make a serious impact next year.

June 27 -- Martin McGuinness meets the Queen

It was an iconic image that, just a few years ago, would have had many people shaking their heads in disbelief. At a function in Northern Ireland, the British monarch shook hands with the Butcher of the Bogside and even managed a smile for the cameras.

As a symbolic gesture, it seemed like the peace process's crowning moment -- until December when a few morons shut down parts of Belfast by rioting over where and when the Union Flag should be flown. A lot done, more to do.

September 26 -- Roisin Shortall resigns

For much of 2012, Health Minister James Reilly kept insisting that he had a perfectly good relationship with his deputy Roisin Shortall. That myth was exploded when the fiery Labour woman suddenly handed in her resignation.

As a parting shot, she then accused him of "stroke politics" by locating two primary care centres in his own constituency of Dublin North. Now on the Independent benches, Shortall is becoming one of the Government's harshest critics -- and she can be expected to remain a thorn in Reilly's side until he is finally forced from office.

October 28 -- Savita Halappanavar dies in hospital

The full truth about Savita Halappanavar's untimely demise has yet to emerge. What we do know is that the outpouring of grief for the young Indian woman has put abortion right back on top of the political agenda.

A bitterly divisive debate is on the cards for next year, with the Government promising legislation and the pro-life lobby determined to resist. Crucially, this is an issue that will expose the ideological differences between FG and Labour -- which means it has real potential to tear apart the coalition.

November 10 -- The Children's Rights referendum is passed

Officially, the Children's Rights referendum goes down as a win for the Government. Even so, the campaign was lacklustre, the turnout pathetic and the result tarnished when a Supreme Court ruling claimed that the Department of Children's information booklet was not fair or balanced.

This has huge implications for next year, because the Government is planning a host of referendums on everything from lowering the voting age to legalising gay marriage. If they don't learn from their mistakes, the electorate will be happy to give them a bloody nose.

December 5 -- Budget 2013 is unveiled

Budget 2013 was always going to be a financial nightmare. It turned into a political nightmare for the Labour Party as well, with Eamon Gilmore forced to break a whole raft of pre-election promises. When chairman Colm Keaveney defected in protests over cuts to child benefit and respite carers, the leader's embarrassment was complete.

Next year, the Tanaiste will have to start posting some solid Labour policy victories on the scoreboard -- otherwise more and more of his colleagues may start to wonder if there is any point keeping him in place.

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