Europe

2016 in the Republic: Feuds, elections, Brexit and the Easter Rising

Police officers and vehicles at the scene of the shooting at Dublin's Regency Hotel Image copyright AFP
Image caption David Byrne was murdered when gunmen dressed as police officers entered Dublin's Regency Hotel

On Friday 5 February, at the Regency Airport Hotel in north Dublin, a boxing weigh-in became a murder scene.

The victim was David Byrne, a leading member of the Kinahan criminal gang.

Gunmen alleged to be linked to the Hutch family took revenge on the Kinahans for the murder of a family member in Spain the previous September.

Kevin McAnena, who was a journalist for BBC Radio Foyle at the time, was an eye-witness.

"I heard gunshots and saw two gunmen dressed up in police uniforms. They came in through the lobby just to my left. One of them shot a man running away in the leg.

"I jumped over the receptionist's desk and started shouting 'Don't shoot, don't shoot'. The gunman then leaned over the receptionist's desk and pointed the gun down at me. And I again screamed 'Don't shoot, don't shoot'. He than said something to me and left again," he recalled.

By the time David Byrne was buried, Eddie Hutch had already been murdered in retaliation.

Gardaí (Irish police) believe he was killed solely because of his surname.

And so began a Kinahan gang-led cycle of violence that has, so far, claimed at least nine lives. It is not yet clear if some other gangland killings are feud-related.

David Byrne's funeral took place as politicians were getting ready for a general election.

Image copyright PA
Image caption It took weeks to resolve the impasse following February's general election

When the ballot boxes were opened and counted it was soon clear that Fine Gael and Labour, the outgoing coalition parties, were taking a big hit.

Not everyone bought into their "Keep the Recovery Going" message.

Independents and Sinn Féin made progress, but Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil were the big winners.

At the time Mr Martin said: "Everybody who is elected to Dáil Éireann (Irish parliament) has a responsibility to do their best by the country. And we're committed to doing our best by the country and making sure the country gets a good government. But it's going to take time."

He was right.

It took several parliament meetings before a Fine Gael-led government with independents in the cabinet emerged.

It is a government that Fianna Fáil agreed to support for three budgets and in motions of confidence.

Those political developments meant that when Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny attended the centenary of the 1916 Rising he was there as a caretaker prime minister.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Members of the Irish Defence Forces marched past the General Post Office, the seat of the 1916 Rising

The highly symbolic event passed off without controversy with the President Michael D Higgins saying the rebellion was justified as a means to free what is now the Republic from British rule.

"I think the balance now among historians, not just here but abroad and in Britain as well, is that it did need this event. And it is this event that gave us the space and capacity for independence and freedom," he told the BBC.

That historically-complicated Irish relationship with the UK now seems set to take a new turn because of the June Brexit referendum result.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Brexit referendum raised serious questions about the Irish border

After the vote, Enda Kenny met several European heads of government to stress Irish concerns as the only EU country with a land border with the UK.

The continuation of the Common Travel Area, trade between the two states worth more than €1bn a week were mentioned as priorities along with Northern Ireland and the peace process.

In Berlin he said: "It's a fragile entity and cannot be taken for granted. And for me it's a central part of the negotiations and the discussions that will take place irrespective of the outcome of the Brexit decision."

As we wait for the tides of 2017 to come in, few would disagree with predictions that political instability here, crime and perhaps above all Brexit will be major issues in the coming year.

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