WHATEVER way we thought things would go at the start of the year, sad to say, they didn’t got much better as regards the bigger issues facing us, especially on the global stage.
The stark new realities that were facing us at the start of 2017 – most notably the impending Brexit and the start of the Trump presidency of the United States – have gone from Southern Starbad to worse and it is difficult to find any reassurance that things will get much better on either front. We knew that Donald J Trump was going to stir things up after he was sworn in as president on January 20th last and he has certainly managed to upset so many people since then, even within the Republican Party he is using as a flag of convenience.
His knee-jerk reaction tweets exposed his lack of political nous and experience in this, his first ever elected office, to the point of being a danger to humanity at times. Even though his calling out of ‘Little Rocket Man,’ the equally-volatile North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, may have won Trump populist appeal with his supporters, dicing with the threat of nuclear war is irresponsible and dangerous.
Only this past month, with the way he has stirred up violence in the Middle East by not letting well enough alone, the threat that Trump’s populist stunts could plunge the world into a series of wars became more real again after he angered the Arab world and several of his own country’s allies by announcing his intention to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The announcement provoked immediate street demonstrations in the Middle East and calls from Hamas leaders for an intifada, or uprising. The uneasy peace that had existed in the region was just blown away by Trump’s provocative action to satisfy vested interests and has discredited any claims the United States had of being an honest broker in suing for peace in the region.
His hiring and firing of people in his administration would be comical if it wasn’t so serious and some of them are likely to turn on him in the various investigations currently taking place, most notably into allegations of Russian collusion with the Trump presidential campaign of 2016 and the possibility that there was outside interference in the election for the presidency. All of these may come back to haunt him yet, but – despite some setbacks – Trump has his eye of a second term in office as there is no stand-out Democratic or other party candidate emerging to challenge him for the presidency.
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was invoked by British Prime Minister Theresa May on March 29th last. Then she foolishly called a snap general election and ended up leading a minority government propped up Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.
Anglo-Irish relations took a hammering during the first phase of the negotiations about Britain’s departure from the European Union, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rightly playing hardball on the border issue, which upset some of the hardline Brexiteers, who displayed some breath-taking ignorance of and arrogance about the issue. The jury is out on just how much we can trust Britain’s assurances about not having a ‘hard’ border between Ireland north and south.
Then we have the ongoing international terrorism threat with people killed by zealots in cowardly attacks this year in London, Manchester and Barcelona, among other places worldwide. There’s the worrying climate change scenario that saw Trump announce his intention of pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord of 2015 and Ireland falling badly behind on its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as Storm Ophelia gave us a wake-up call.
HERE in Ireland, there may be a lot more people working as the economy continues to improve, but many are struggling to make ends meet because any pay rises are not compensating for the rising cost of living, rents especially. Industrial unrest became a feature as public service unions extracted their pound of flesh; the public was held to ransom with bus and rail strikes and even Ryanair was forced to recognise a pilots’ union after years of zero-tolerance for unions.
But, the biggest problems that remain as serious and as urgent as ever, in spite of government attempts to deal with them, are the housing and health crises. A severe shortage of housing, especially social housing units, is leading to more homelessness, while on the health front, overcrowded emergency departments and almost half a million people on waiting lists for consultations or treatment are a sad indictment of this vital public service that people have so much difficulty accessing.
The Department of Justice was another one that was described this year as ‘dysfunctional’ as Minister Frances Fitzgerald was forced to resign over her handling of various controversies, including the treatment of Garda whistle-blower Sgt Maurice McCabe. An Garda Síochána was dogged by other scandals including the falsification of breath-test data and its part in thousands of wrongful convictions for motoring offences. Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan resigned – and it looks like nobody will be held accountable for the force’s grievous failings.
On the political front, Enda Kenny eventually stepped down as Taoiseach and, after a prickly battle with Cork’s Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s first mixed race and openly gay Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael. The Confidence & Supply Agreement with a resurgent Fianna Fáil was tested by the Frances Fitzgerald controversy and FF leader Micheál Martin got his way when she resigned to head off the calling of a general election that nobody seemed to have any appetite for.
The pulling of the plug on the Northern Ireland Assembly by Martin McGuinness prior to his death led to an election in March and, in spite of numerous attempts to agree on the formation of a new executive between the two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, the Assembly has not sat since last January. The £1bn extracted by DUP leader Arlene Foster in return for her party propping up the lame duck British government in Westminster cannot be spent until the institution is revived and the British and Irish governments need to prioritise this in the new year, especially also as Northern Ireland needs to have a voice that is representative of all its people in the Brexit negotiations.
We had the abolition of water charges and the debate on the repeal of the 8th Amendment beginning to intensify in the lead-up to a referendum next year. The fall-out from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home scandal continued and, at year end, relatives of people who were in the home were calling for the exhumation, identification and proper interment of the children believed to have been buried in a sort of mass grave adjoining it.