Newsmakers: These six people hit the headlines in 2015

From #MarRef to water charges, here are some of the biggest stories of the year

Newsmakers: These six people hit the headlines in 2015

Newsmakers 2015

From the historic result in the marriage equality referendum, to the worst refugee crisis since World War II, we hear from some of the people behind the biggest news stories of 2015.

1. Brendan Ogle of Right2Change

If the government thought that the headache surrounding the introduction of water charges was over, Brendan Ogle, spokesman for the Right2Water campaign, announced to George Hook that a sixth demonstration will be held on January 23rd, 2016.

It has been an interesting year for political observers, seeing how much the Irish public has refused to go with the flow of paying for their water, with Irish Water widely considered a failure given news in July that less than half of all households in the country had paid their bills.

The hearings in the case of Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy, who faces charges in connection with three separate cases which are all connected to anti-Irish Water demonstrations, including a protest outside a school in Jobstown that saw Tánaiste Joan Burton delayed for two hours in her ministerial car.

Public attitude is tipping ever more in favour with the protesters, Brendan Ogle affirms. Research coming out of NUI Maynooth claims that 70% of the protesters still believe that their campaign will be successful, and 92% of them will never pay a water bill. There remains a high level of confidence and determination among protesters that the water charges and Irish Water will be abolished.

The charges will arguably become an election issue as the country goes to the polls early in 2016. And on that note, there was one question that George Hook was adamant Ogle would answer – would he be running for a seat in Leinster House?

You can listen back to the full interview with Brendan Ogle below:

2. Jane Ann McKenna, director of Médecins Sans Frontières

"The refugees... these people feel like there is no other option, there is no other alternative but to try..."

More than one million migrants made the often treacherous crossing into Europe from the Middle East and Northern Africa in 2015, sparking one of the biggest humanitarian crises seen on the continent since the Second World War

The mass movement of these people, along with the debate over whether or not to even refer to them as refugees, dominated the airwave and news broadcasts all summer long, with debates raging about where they are going, what their intentions are when they get there, and how Europe as a community can share the burden while maintaining its core ethos of open boarders and free movement.

But amid all the talk of nearly incomprehensible numbers, the migrant crisis has been its most affecting when dealing with smaller and tragically relatable ones. The image of Aylan Kurdi, just three years old, washed up on a beach, having drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, galvanised the leaders of Europe into action. And yet, the drowning of desperate refugees carries on, with more than 3000 believed to have succumbed while making their dangerous flight to Europe.

Covering the crisis in his review of some of the biggest news stories of the year, George Hook spoke to Jane Ann McKenna, director of Médecins Sans Frontières. She and her agency have been active in the crisis, and she travelled to the Greek island of Kos where vast numbers have made their way to Europe.

McKenna spoke about the mobile clinics MSF has helped found and run, offering not only medical help, but also psychological care to help migrants to come to terms with their new identity, and resolve some of the trauma they have felt having fled the persecution taking place in the Middle East. She spoke frankly about witnessing first-hand the complete lack of facilities on the island and the abject failure of Europe to react properly to the crisis.

But it is in the personal stories that carry the most weight, and McKenna’s story about a family of refugees she encountered is powerful listening.

You can listen back to The Right Hook’s interview with Jane Ann McKenna below:

3. H.E. Jean-Pierre Thébault, the French Ambassador to Ireland

"What we are proud of is the sense of having one nation, where everybody is equal. And our freedom and our liberty and our fraternity is what matters."

Paris, a city renowned for love and culture, was rocked by terrorism attacks this year, shaking the world to its core.

Early in January, two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, forced their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. By the end of their attack, 12 people were dead and 11 more inured. World leaders gathered in Paris and marched in solidarity with Parisians, honouring the democratic right of free speech and expression.

The following week, when the magazine published its first edition since the shooting, the Charlie Hebdo print run, which usually number 30,000 to 35,000 was doubled to 60,000. In the end, almost 8m copies of the satirical publication, which showed an image of the prophet Muhammad holding a placard reading “Je suis Charlie,” the phrase that became a global trending tribute to the slain, were sold.

In the weeks and months after the shoot, France was under the grip of a heightened sense of threat, with many anti-Muslim incidents reported across the country. Three French soldiers were stabbed while guarding a Jewish community centre in Nice in February, and in June, assailants attempted to blow up a factory in Saint-Quentin Fallavier. Three American soldiers, on leave, and a British man foiled an attempted shooting and stabbing attack on a French train in August.

Ten months after the Charlie Hebdo assassinations, on November 13th, a series of six coordinated attacks at restaurants, bars, a theatre, and the Stade de France, left 130 people dead and 368 injured, of which 100 were on the critical list.

With Paris, and the Belgian capital of Brussels in lockdown, the world once again united in grief.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the French Ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, came in to Newstalk’s Dublin studios to speak to George Hook. He spoke passionately about the French resolve in the face of adversity, the changing face of France’s population, the country’s issue with the integration of its Muslim population, and the close links between Ireland and France.

This month, Mr Thébault returned to Newstalk to talk to George in the wake of the Paris Attacks. You can listen back to that full interview below:

4. Fr Brendan McBride, the chaplain who provided spiritual relief to Irish students in Berkeley

"The stream of young Irish people light candles... It was the only thing they knew what to do to shed some light of love"

Fr Brendan McBride is the San Francisco-based president of the Irish Apostolate in the United States and founded the Irish Immigration & Pastoral Center in the Californian city. In June, he played a central role in offering spiritual relief and guidance to the Irish community in the aftermath of the tragic events in Berkeley.

While attending a 21st birthday party spending the summer on a J1 Student Visa, six young people lost their lives when a balcony collapsed and they fell three stories. They were Lorcán Miller (21) from Shankill, Eimear Walsh (21) from Foxrock, Eoghan Culligan (21) from Rathfarnham, Niccolai Schuster (21) from Terenure, and cousins Ashley Donohoe (22) from California and Olivia Burke (21) from Foxrock.

Seven more Irish students were seriously injured.

Working with the Irish consular team based in San Francisco, Fr McBride was on the scene of the tragic accident within hours, and he continued on to Highland Hospital in Oakland, where doctors attended to the most seriously injured. There, he comforted Irish students as the news of their friends’ sudden deaths spread throughout the J1 Student community.

The six victims of the balcony collapse (clockwise from top left) Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Olivia Burke, Niccolai Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, and Lorcán Miller

Fr McBride, working closely with the diplomatic team led by Philip Grant, helped mobilise the Pastoral Center’s volunteers, more than 300 people, to offer assistance, including transport and access to mobile phones.

In the months that followed, Fr McBride led vigil services in memory of the six young people who had lost their lives and to their friends who were injured. He supported the families of both groups, offering any help he could until their return to Ireland. His oration at the Month’s Mind mass was warmly received on both sides of the Atlantic, when he described the victims as “a beacon for J1 students” and will “loom large in our lives.”

To honour the chaplain’s work this summer, An t-Uachtaráin Michael D Higgins gave him a Presidential Distinguished Service Award earlier this month. While in town to receive his award, the Donegal native spoke to George Hook about his life, his work, and how the Berkeley tragedy impacted him.

You can listen to the full podcast of that interview below:

5.  Brent Pope on the Rugby World Cup

"I missed you, George!"

The last 12 months have proven to be an unprecedented year for Irish sport, with the roaring cries wishing on the boys and girls in green heard all over the world.

Rory McIllroy became the number one golfer in the world, carrying back a slew of titles and trophies, building further on his successes in 2014. Ireland qualified for Euro 2016, meaning Irish eyes may well be smiling across France next Summer, though the group is packed with some heavyweights. Stephanie Roche’s incredible goal propelled her to household name, changing the 25-year-old’s life and shining a light on women’s soccer on the island.

It is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore the allure of The Notorious himself, with Conor McGregor polarising Irish people, and pulverising opponents, becoming the UFC Featherweight Champion in a bout lasting just 13 seconds.

On the rugby pitch, the year stated off with a triumph for Ireland at the Six Nations Tournament, with their win guaranteed by a number of different results spread across three games that kept the country’s attention glued to screens all over the island. This was followed by the Rugby World Cup, held just across the Irish Sea, with Ireland widely considered to be the best placed team in the Northern Hemisphere to take a shot at claiming the title.

But it was not to be, with Argentina, Ireland’s longstanding RWC nemesis, knocking us out in after a clear run in the group stage. The Kiwis would go on to claim the cup, much to the delight of New Zealander rugby pundit Brent Pope, a friend of Newstalk presenter George Hook after their years spent analysing every Irish rugby game on RTÉ television.

With the tournament moved to TV3, along with the news that the commercial station has secured the rights to broadcast the Six Nations, the two former pundits lamented their old gig, reflected on the RWC, and talked about the state of Irish rugby.

You can listen back to the full interview below:

6. Rory O'Neill, aka Panti Bliss, on the marriage equality referendum

"That divide is so much smaller now, all that has shrunk."

This week and next George Hook is looking back on the newsmakers in 2015 – and he started off by speaking with one of the most influential figures in Irish life in 2015, Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss.

George and Rory looked back not just on the referendum, but also on Rory’s early life, living with HIV, and capping the year with admitted he has a deep fascination with Rory’s art form - the drag queen.

“I’m so interested in drag queens and female impersonators, I really am, probably because I used steal underwear from my friend’s mother’s closets when I was a kid, so who knows if things had been different you could have been interviewing me and I could have been doing a show – I just think my feet were too big for the stilettos," George said.

To which Rory could only reply - “I’m just going to write that quote down.”

And there was plenty more besides, including George telling Rory “I often thought that if I were gay, I somehow thought ... if I was gay I think I’d fancy you more as Panti than more as Rory.”