2021 looking back at 2020 – the news that shaped the past year
IN January 2020, few people in the west had heard of or were particularly interested in a flu-like illness affecting parts of Asia.
By January 2021, it had ravaged families around the world and brought industries, particularly the travel and hospitality sectors, to their knees.
Lockdowns heralded new ways of working and socializing; Zoom and gloom for some, for others, working at home was like eight months of blanket days.
But overall, it was a year of global grief. Supply chain disruptions around the world heralded shortages around the world. The world, it seemed, was running out.
In Ireland and the UK, the vaccine program helped the situation and allowed some return to normal.
In contrast to citizens of some other European countries, the “vaccination delay” refused to exert any major influence in either Ireland or the UK.
Sometimes the opposite was the case: around February and March jealousy set in – “How is it that the 17-year-old got his injection and my grandma is still waiting”, became the template for some complaints.
But by the end of the year, vaccine uptake on these islands was substantial, and it looked like a double vaccination and booster would offer protection from the new variant of the virus, Omicron.
In December, Omicron made itself felt. Ireland announced tough new restrictions, although 91 percent of those eligible over the age of 12 are now fully vaccinated. Stricter measures have been introduced in both Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland and Brexit
In Europe, the Brexit negotiations are running in the background of the pandemic, with the Northern Ireland Protocol being a core part of the ongoing negotiations.
A bitter dispute over Northern Ireland’s status remains the most complex aspect of Brexit and has drawn the attention of all parties, including the US Biden administration.
Well-founded concerns about the fragility of the peace in Northern Ireland, which began at the beginning of the 21st century.
The Northern Ireland Protocol aims to resolve the border issue. Brexit has created many anomalous situations, not the least of which is if you were born in Northern Ireland and opt for Irish citizenship.
This is the right of every person born on the island of Ireland and is attached to copper by the Good Friday Convention.
In other words, a Northern Irish person with Irish citizenship living under UK jurisdiction is actually part of the EU – this is a guaranteed legal position.
The situation of imports and exports is just as complex and certainly more immediate and tangible.
In early 2021, a dispute over this complex issue led to the Sausage Wars – when it appeared that Britain would have to go without Irish bang for a while.
At the end of the year new proposals were on the table from both sides, but no agreement was reached. Irish sausages were also back on British menus.
Climate change is on the agenda. This burner has been on the back burner for years as it pumps CO2 into the atmosphere and heats the planet.
But increasingly frequent climatic disasters – storms, bush fires, floods – have put the topic at the top of the agenda.
In Ireland, rainfall has already increased, increasing the risk of flooding in rivers and coasts.
But it is the poorer nations that are feeling the brunt of climate change, something former President of Ireland Mary Robinson turned her attention to and founded the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice to address this situation.
Mary Robinson strongly expressed her views at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, arguing that it is the poor, disempowered and marginalized around the world who are at the sharp end of climate change.
One way climate change will irrevocably change Ireland is by ending the lawn fires.
Turf fuel is a highly carbon inefficient fuel, even more so than coal. But as a country without its own oil, a limited supply of gas and almost no coal, turf is an important fuel for Ireland, which gives the island nation a certain level of energy self-sufficiency. But most of Ireland’s commercial moors are closed or will soon be closed.
It’s not just climate change that causes burning lawn damage – many of the moors are home to protected animal and plant species.
In addition to the removal of lawns, the Irish government has spent millions of euros on the protection and maintenance of moors.
Leadership problems in Northern Ireland
Arlene Foster was the first woman to serve as First Minister and Chair of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Foster, a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, was forced by her DUP counterparts as Chair to end her term as First Minister in June in May 2021.
Foster’s seizure of power was eased by various events.
Initially, their gender was still a cause for concern among the backwoodsmen of the DUP. In addition, she is a member of the Church of Ireland, while most of the DUP is the much more muscular Free Presbyterian CHuch.
The so-called Cash for Ash scandal was particularly stressful for them.
The Renewable Heat Incentive Program exceeded Â£ 400 million. The program to promote a âgreenâ policy was supported by Foster.
Her relationship with Deputy First Secretary Martin McGuinness has always been a tense affair, and this recent incident led to the breakdown of the power-sharing executive branch.
Foster also attended an LGBT event in Belfast, much to the displeasure of the DUP Trunk, which is unforgiving in its condemnation of gay rights.
But more important than any of that was her handling of the Brexit that led to her death.
She supported the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, despite the obvious challenges it would pose for Northern Ireland.
It also contradicted opinion polls showing that a majority in the region was opposed to Brexit – “staying in the EU” was supported across the political divide.
Her confused âsupportâ for Theresa May’s government – which was sometimes very flimsy support – helped Boris Johnson replace Prime Minister May later.
He didn’t need Foster’s support for long and brokered a Brexit deal that created a border in the Irish Sea. For trade unionists, this meant that their Britain was at stake.
The fact that the DUP under Foster made this possible meant that their political fate was sealed.
Foster was replaced as DUP leader on May 28, 2021 by Edwin Poots.
Poots, a creationist (he believes the world was created 6,000 years ago) was excited about his new job.
He said goodbye to Arlene Foster and said her most important job was “wife, mother and daughter”. The statements met with broad criticism.
But Poots barely had time to adjust his office seat when he was pushed out of it to be replaced by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson a month later.
Paul Givan, who replaced Arlene Foster as First Minister, stayed in the role.
Events in Ireland
Events Taoiseach MicheÃ¡l Martin faced included Covid, Brexit, and a resurgent Sinn FÃ©in.
In October 2021, Sinn FÃ©in was the Republic’s most popular party, with the support of nearly a third of voters with 32 percent, well ahead of Fine Gael (22 percent) and Fianna FÃ¡il (20 percent) in an Irish Times / Ipsos MRBI poll.
If there were elections soon, Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn FÃ©in, would be Taoiseach.
Coincidentally, and fortunately for the other two major parties, parliamentary elections don’t have to take place before Thursday, February 20, 2025.
And as we know, a week in politics is a long time, let alone four years.
The coalition government has also faced one of the worst scars in recent Irish history.
The Commission of Inquiry into Mothers and Baby Homes has published its final report.
The 3,000-page document states that approximately 9,000 children died in maternity and baby homes between 1925 and 1998.
Taoiseach MicheÃ¡l Martin formally apologized on behalf of the state to the victims and survivors of maternity and baby homes and promised that the apology would be followed by measures including access to counseling and records, the provision of sick leave certificates and a system of redress.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin has been canceled for the second year in a row, as have many other calendar events such as the National Plowing Championships (essentially the Olympic Games for Irish Farmers) and the Rose of Tralee.
Irish leaders in Great Britain
In 2021, the Irish continued to occupy the boardrooms of some of the UK’s premier companies.
Willie Walsh, 60, is the current General Manager of the International Air Transport Association. Until 2020 he was CEO of the International Airlines Group, before that he was CEO of Aer Lingus and British Airways.
Another former Aer Lingus boss, Cork man Sean Doyle, became the current CEO of British Airways.
In December 2021, it was announced that the airline would be the world’s first commercially produced sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) in the UK to use on its flights from 2022.
Sean Doyle said, “This agreement is another important step on our journey to zero carbon emissions and is part of our commitment as part of the International Airlines Group to operate 10 percent of our flights with SAF by 2030.”
Dublin Trainline boss Clare Gilmartin resigned in February to spend more time with her family. Last year she made a massive Â£ 50m profit when her company went public on the London Stock Exchange.
Gilmartin will remain with the company as a “Senior Advisor”.
BP’s Kerry man Bernard Looney CE0 must find radical solutions to unprecedented challenges in the energy sector.
This has been hit by both Covid and climate change concerns.
Corkman Ken Murphy became CEO of Tesco, the third largest retailer in the world by gross sales in 2020 and had a lot to do.
Supply chains affected by both Covid and Brexit were high on his agenda for most days of 2021.
Dr. Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), made regular mainstream media coverage in 2021.
The Kildare woman specializes in infectious diseases and microbiology and has advised the UK government on the ongoing public health risks associated with Covid.
Another busy person who analyzed Covid rates in 2021 was Irishman Robert Cuffe, head of statistics at BBC News.