Following a pair of good by-elections in March, a series of recent opinion polls have shown Fine Gael to be making steady gains on Fianna Fail. With an election pencilled in for 2007, the coming twelve months will be make or break for Kenny.
The so-called “Mullingar accord” between Kenny’s party and Pat Rabbitte’s Labor party seemed to pay-off in March with a high-level of transferred votes recorded. Fine Gael’s now long-running ‘rip-off Ireland’ campaign fed into the Eddie Hobbs effect (see below) and tapped into lingering resentment among the electorate.
Fine Gael and Labor now need to show they can come up with a viable package for government.
2. Eddie Hobbs
The financial consultant from Cork was little known at the outset of 2005. That was to change dramatically with the airing of ‘Rip Off Republic’ on RTE television.
Armed with a handful of quirky catch-phrases and obsessed with the expensive cost of living in Ireland, Hobbs provoked such a reaction among the Irish public, that several Fianna Fail insiders admitted he had inspired something of a minor backlash against the government.
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Subsequent opinion polls that showed a slump in government fortunes were attributed to the ‘rip-off republic’ phenomena.
Meanwhile, consumer confidence also took a dip following Hobbs’ series. A ‘Behaviour and Attitudes’ confidence tracker recorded a sharp decline in September. The management company that carried out the survey said at the time that the dip was likely to be a result of the “Eddie Hobbs effect”.
While Hobbs is unlikely to replicate the phenomena he generated over the late summer months, he shows no sign of retiring and seems to be an ever-present in the Irish media.
3. Willie Walsh
Having piloted Aer Lingus out of stormy weather in recent years, Willie Walsh finally flew the coop in early 2005. Ever onwards and upwards, he secured what many regard as the top job in commercial aviation by becoming chief executive of British Airways.
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Walsh implemented a swinging “survival plan” that saw a 40 percent reduction in Aer Lingus staff. A wage freeze was also introduced. The company had debts of around Euro140 million at the time but went on to record an operating profit of Euro 83 million in 2003.
Industry observers believe Walsh’s stripped down management policies will bring similar benefits to the British flagship carrier. He lived up his nickname “Slasher Walsh” earlier this month when he announced the cutting of 600 BA management jobs and he has signalled that he is prepared to take a long-running baggage-handling dispute head on.
Aer Lingus’ loss is BA shareholder’s gain.
1. Ivor Callelly
The Fianna Fail man once tipped by physics to be Taoiseach, had to pack up his portable constituency clinic earlier this month after a series of scandals sent him scurrying the back-benches.
Following claims that Callelly had availed of free construction work on his home and that he had offered to buy a staff member a car, the Dublin TD lost his job as junior health minister.
Callelly, lovingly referred to in some circles as “Ivor the engine” for his unstinting pursuit of a top government job, refused to go quietly into the night. His initial reluctance to resign over-shadowed Brian Cowen’s budget speech — infuriating both the finance minister and Bertie Ahern.
So miffed was he by the heave against him he reportedly staged a “sit-in” in his Dail offices before being instructed to hit the road.
2. The Irish media
Journalism at times can be a unforgiving profession. Every-one is human and mistakes are an inevitable and regrettable aspect of the job. However the reporting of the death of former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor will go down in the annals of Irish newspaper reporting as a full-scale disaster.
Going on the word of an unidentified police source in Moscow that Lawlor may have been accompanied by a teenage prostitute when his car crashed not far from the city’s airport, the Sunday Independent and Observers newspapers reported inaccurate speculation as fact.
A number of other Irish newspapers, including the Sunday Tribune, desperate not to miss a trick “lifted” the story from the Sunday Independent’s early edition.
It later emerged that Lawlor had in fact been accompanied by a professional translator. The papers concerned were forced into embarrassing apologies amid calls for greater media restriction. The furore surrounding the Lawlor affair fed into justice minister Michael McDowell’s plans for a press council which many fear could curb legitimate press activity.
3. Catholic Church
It may be fashionable to bash the Catholic Church but 2005 was an undeniably bad year for the institution. The publication of the Ferns report, which chronicled shocking tales of child sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, confirmed for many people their worst fears about what had gone there.
Responding to publication of the report, Progressive Democrat TD Liz O’Donnell called for an end to any relationship between the church and state. Her scathing attack in the Dail was rejected by the Taoiseach however who said many Catholic priests had done immense work for the country and had played a crucial role in making Ireland what it is today.
An audit is planned for the Dublin diocese and it is possible that a nation-wide investigation may be an eventuality. With estimates of a potential compensation bill running into the billions, things may get even worse for the Church in 2006.
A year in the North…
BELFAST – Political paralysis interspersed by violent crisis characterised the year 2005 in Northern Ireland. Despite huge moves by the IRA to push the peace process forward, the DUP remained implacably opposed to restoring devolution.
The security agenda continued to dictate the pace of events with politicians forced onto the sidelines, reacting to events created either by paramilitaries or the police rather than driving the process forward.
Once the festive break was over, the unionist floodgates opened over the Northern Bank raid and the IRA’s alleged responsibility. Torrents of fury threatened to drown all hopes of reviving devolution.
There was one moment of humor when some of the stolen