“Turn on television, right? Covid, Covid. Covid, Covid, Covid. Covid”. That was Donal Trump complaining in the autumn of 2020 that there was too much reporting of Covid. He predicted it’d  be gone by November 2020. Prescient, eh?

Taoiseach Micheál Martin made similar sounds in Dublin, then with Christmas 2020 came the arrival of the Alpha variant and both January and the early part of February 2021 in the South were grim. As a leader, you’ve got to show people a vision of better times; looking at and listening to Micheál didn’t exactly inspire confidence. 

As 2021 moved to summer, things got a bit better on the Covid front, but then the whole question of Sláintecare and the shambles of the housing situation replaced Covid as reasons-not-to-be-cheerful. It was like movement from the frying-pan to the fire for the Dublin government, except the Covid frying-pan remained frying on the back burner. 

Sinn Féin, in contrast, enjoyed unprecedented popularity, if the opinion polls were to be believed – from 25 per cent around the time of the general election to 35 per cent as 2021 drew to a close. Micheál and Leo may console themselves that a week is a long time in politics, but 2021 was a painful eternity for them both. 

Meanwhile, north of the border, on April 28, 2021, Arlene Foster resigned/was toppled as First Minister, amid general unionist frustration with the Withdrawal Bill and the ‘Irish Protocol’ in particular.  It seemed somebody tougher than Arlene was needed to stand up to the ruling Conservative Party in Britain. In its first-ever leadership contest, Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson stood for election.

Poots defeated Donaldson by 19 votes to 17. Game over? Not quite. Just 21 days later Poots resigned amid much DUP discontent over, among other things, his installation as First Minister of his protégé Paul Givan. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson took over as party leader, declaring that he planned to give up his seat in Westminster and take a seat in Stormont. It hasn’t happened yet. So looking back on 2021, the contrast in fortunes between the DUP and Sinn Féin could scarcely be starker.

In the most recent opinion poll in the South, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were both at 20 per cent, with Sinn Féin disappearing over the horizon with that 35 per cent. In the North, the latest poll shows Sinn Féin at 25 per cent with the DUP at 16 per cent. 

And 2022? As PG Wodehouse once said, when you least expect it, Fate is waiting around the corner with a piece of lead piping in hand. We don’t know who’ll be on the receiving end of that piping but we could maybe guess.

Bliain úr faoi mhaise daoibh.