People of 2007

Predictions are always wrong, except in retrospect. Inevitably, some of those who will dominate 2007 are now unknown generally. Others now seem unlikely to make a mark. But in the case of some, it is possible to predict with some assurance that they will feature largely in 2007.


 Gordon Brown is almost certain to become prime minister of the UK and, if he fails to become prime minister, he is even more certain to be a dominant personality. Ségolène Royale is not certain to become president of France, but that a woman should be a contender for one of the most powerful roles in Europe is interesting and she will dominate coverage for much of the year. Ban Ki-moon can hardly stay out of the headlines, as UN secretary general in succession to Kofi Annan.

Two property developers will (again) be main players: Bernard McNamara, who is transforming Dublin, and Treasury Holdings,  Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett's company which is building a huge city on an island in China.

Sports personalities will play a big part in our consciousness, and one of those seems certain to be Ronan O'Gara, on whom so much of Ireland's hope in the Rugby World Cup depends.

Enda Kenny may fail to become Taoiseach in 2007, but he will be very much part of the year as he heads a coalition of parties aiming to unseat the present government. Because of how the general election will dominate events here in 2007, the media will be more than usually influential. David Nally, as editor of RTé's main current affairs television programme, Prime Time, will help set the agenda for that election, as will News Talk's The Breakfast Show, with the impressive Claire Byrne as co-presenter.

And we feature three others: Oliver Callan, whose impersonation of Enda Kenny and others is sure to make him much in demand in 2007, choreographer/playwright Michael Keegan-Dolan, whose scabrous midlands plays could make him one of the biggest figures in Irish arts, and Deirdre Madden, the first non-doctor chair of the Medical Council's ethics committee.


Gordon Brown: The ‘big clunking fist'

Outgoing prime minister Tony Blair hailed him as the “big clunking fist”, the Labour “heavyweight” who would deliver an electoral knockout to the Tory “flyweight” that is David Cameron.

Gordon Brown is such a red-hot favourite to move into 10 Downing Street in the middle of this year that it would take an economic meltdown of unprecedented savagery or an act of God, or perhaps both, to stop him.

Coveting the Labour leader's crown since Blair seized it in 1994, chief finance minister since Labour won power in 1997 (making him the UK's longest-serving chancellor since the early 19th Century) and a principal architect of the party's historic three straight election triumphs, he's undoubtedly served a lengthy apprenticeship for the top job.

His stewardship of the economy – the International Monetary Fund recently described his management as “impressive” – is the rock on which the government's achievements have been built. The record spending on health and education, redistribution of billions of pounds into the pockets of the working poor under the banner of “fairness” and an international crusade to assist poorer countries were led by Brown. On the debit side, he has also pushed privatisation and failed to halt the obscene jumps in the income of a rich, and often tax-dodging, elite.

Yet a battered and bruised Blair is likely to bequeath him a government behind in the opinion polls and tainted by sleaze as public trust plummets with the disaster that is Iraq showing little sign of improving.

The challenge for a premier-in-waiting-but-not-much-longer will be to reinvigorate a flagging government or forever be remembered as another Jim Callaghan, a prime minister who never led his party to victory.

Certainly his barely suppressed contempt for Old Etonian David Cameron and his young chief lieutenant, Conservative shadow chancellor George Osborne, has got under the skin of the pair and in a surreal New Year message, the Tory leader likened Brown to the dark side in the Star Wars trilogy.

Tory tactics are to portray Brown as Old Labour, a roadblock to reform obsessed with state control. The “big” has been dropped to diminish him, a mere “clunking fist”, a politician who would repeatedly beat the middle classes, attempting to conjure up the image from George Orwell's 1984 of a boot stamping on the face.

The opposition tactics smack of desperation, a backhanded compliment, a recognition that Brown was respected and trusted by voters until he was pulled down when electoral support collapsed in April last year, sleaze in Blair's government combining with incompetence to produce general contempt.

In truth the Tories are frightened of Brown, a formidable politician and co-creator alongside Blair of the New Labour coalition who will use the departure of his ally-cum-rival to present his own arrival as a fresh change, a new era with ambitious 10-day and 100-day plans under consideration.

The difficult trick for Brown will be to show how he is different and fresh while offering reassurance and continuity, a tough act for a politician that will be seen by some as having his cake and eating it.

Brown's style will certainly be different to that of Blair. Less of a showman, there will be no holidaying in the homes of Cliff Richard or a Bee Gee, although the chancellor enjoys a good party. He likes hobnobbing with sports and film stars, and worked successfully with Bono and Bob Geldof on debt relief for Africa. What one ally described as “glitz with a purpose”.

He is a man with a sharper, some would say harsher, edge who champions full employment and believes Labour's historic role is to make Britain a fairer place. The change will be more than style.

Brown was born on 20 February 1951, the second son of a Church of Scotland minister in the small Fife town of Kirkcaldy.

By 12 he was canvassing for Labour and at 16 left state-run Kirkcaldy High School to study history at Edinburgh University, where he achieved a first class degree, going on to complete a doctorate on the Labour Party and political change in Scotland between 1918 and 1929.

He was elected the university's rector then became a lecturer before working for Scottish TV until, in 1983, he made it to Westminster as MP for his home patch.

While at university, a rugby injury cost Brown the sight in his left eye. He compensated by printing his speeches in unusually large type and signing official documents with a broad felt pen. The disability has failed to slow his reading. Brown devours official reports and books at speed to arm himself with facts and figures to trump colleagues who repeatedly complain that he tramples all over them.

A capacity for hard work and a driven personality earned him a reputation as a political obsessive, few voters glimpsing his passion for football or love of a gossip and a joke over a glass of champagne, his favourite tipple.

His marriage to PR guru Sarah Macaulay and personal tragedy have changed all that. The death of his prematurely-born first child, Jennifer, in early 2002 from a brain haemorrhage exposed a human side to Brown as he movingly spoke of how she was their “inspiration”. Their first son, John, was born a year later and Brown blossomed. There was again widespread sympathy when their second son, Fraser, was recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

The chancellor's preparations for the top job have repeatedly strained relations with Blair, the pair an “odd couple” who fall out then make up. The prime minister, who will be forced to depart a year early under pressure from his backbenchers, is prepared to endorse Brown as his successor.

Brown's range saw him reach far beyond the Treasury, for instance hijacking control of European policy from Blair and effectively sideling the premier's ambition to merge the pound into the euro.

Yet he suffered defeats too. He was forced to swallow higher university “top-up” fees after his alternative scheme, based on a graduate income tax, was rejected.
He's dangled incentives in the form of higher public spending in front of the parties in Nothern Ireland but the success of the peace process is largely Blair's (even if Brown has an unexpectedly warm relationship with Ian Paisley, owing much to his parentage as the son of the manse).

The Tories are enjoying their first sustained lead in the opinion polls since “Black Wednesday”,  the day in September 1992 when public confidence collapsed as the Conservative government proved economically incompetent.

Yet the Tory lead is in low single figures, rarely enough to make Cameron leader of the biggest party in the House of Commons, let alone giving him an overall majority under the first-past-the-post system.

As prime minister, Brown would be free to call a general election at any time up to May 2010. The “big clunking fist” will use his time in No 10 to pound the Tories and draw red lines on the political landscape, setting out where the two main parties differ rather than agree.

Kevin Maguire, Associate Editor (Politics) of the Daily Mirror


Bernard McNamara: More influence than a government minister


Bernard McNamaraseat in Dáil éireann when he stood as a general election candidate, the vast personal fortune of Bernard McNamara and the face of Ireland would be quite different today. In the coming year, the former Fianna Fáil councillor from Clare will put an indelible stamp on the Irish landscape with the re-opening of the Shelbourne Hotel and the completion of his €400m Elm Park development, among other projects in hand.

McNamara already owns several hotels, including the Radisson in Galway, where he throws a party in the penthouse during race week every year, playing host to fellow multimillionaires and heavyweight politicians like Bertie Ahern. Last August, a company McNamara controls, Spentor Limited, bought the Parknasilla Great Southern Hotel on 300 acres in Kerry, where the Taoiseach holidays every summer. McNamara paid €130m for the “jewel in the crown”.

Elected to Clare County Council in 1974 where he served two consecutive terms, he turned his energies full-time to the construction business when he failed to win a Dáil seat in 1981 after polling 2,676 first-preference votes. The name of Michael McNamara, a building company started by Bernard's father carrying out road repairs for the council, has become as ubiquitous as the construction cranes on Dublin's skyline. It turns over about €250m annually and has won some major public contracts including the millennium extension to Leinster House, Dublin Airport and the new wing of the National Gallery.

He also ranks sixth in a league of landlords to the state. According to the Office of Public Works, companies he is involved in collect €46m in annual rent from state tenants.

But it is as a property developer and business investor that he exerts greatest influence, arguably more than he could ever have dreamt of as a government minister. In 2001, he and his Kerry-born business partner, Jerry O'Reilly, bought 14.5 acres from the Sisters of Charity religious order on the Merrion Road in Dublin for under €46m. The site grew to include neighbouring houses, a filling station and the Tara Towers Hotel which the partners bought for €14.2m in 2003. An application for a helipad across the road, close to Booterstown bird sanctuary, was refused. Residents and An Taisce had complained when McNamara occasionally flew his helicopter onto the site for easy access to the Elm Park development and onward to his mansion home on Ailesbury Road, complete with underground swimming pool.

The three-phase Elm Park development, which is about to come on stream, constitutes a virtual town. It encompasses a hospital, hotel, restaurant, bars, shops, more than 400 apartments, 28,000m/sq of offices, a 250-seat conference centre, a swimming pool, jogging track and parking for 900 cars.

According to property-watchers, however, Elm Park is likely to be outshone by the development of the 25-acre Glass Bottle site in Ringsend which is already being hailed as “a mini-Manhattan”. McNamara bought it for €412m in November in conjunction with high-profile investor, Derek Quinlan, and others.

As a member of Select Retail Holdings, the consortium that paid €350m for 80 per cent of the Superquinn chain of supermarkets, McNamara has been involved in buying prime properties in the past year to use as additional shop outlets. In an increasingly characteristic exercise of retail therapy, he spent €60m last September acquiring the Champion Sports chain.

The gala re-opening of the Shelbourne Hotel will propel McNamara's name back into the headlines next spring. He is a member of the consortium that bought it for €160m in 2004. It is estimated that €80m has been spent refurbishing it. The symbolism is unlikely to be lost on him when he holds court at the re-opening in rooms where Constance Markievicz dined during the Easter Rising and where the modern Irish state was founded with the drafting of the Constitution.

Justine McCarthy


Deirdre Madden: Navigating medicine's moral minefield

Deirdre Madden She crashed through one of the establishment's fustiest school-tie bastions in 2006 to become the first non-doctor chairwoman of the Medical Council's final frontier, the ethics committee. Her gusto for confronting contentious issues presages a controversial year ahead in medicine's moral minefield, where dread-words like abortion, embryos and right-to-choose are guaranteed to cause ructions.

An opinionated workaholic and a liberal, Madden is a full-time law lecturer in UCC and chairs the Irish College of General Practitioners' ethics research board. It was she who wrote the official inquiry report on the retention of children's organs and was a government appointee to the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction.

Passionate about such issues as human fertility, surrogate motherhood, the doctor-patient relationship and informed conscience, she disagreed with the medical profession's consensus in 2006 that a new mother refusing a blood transfusion on religious grounds should have her wishes over-ruled.

Madden's platform for election to the helm of the Medical Council's ethics committee was that doctors need unambiguous direction in navigating the moral minefield and she promised to re-write the ethical guide. The scalpels are already being sharpened.

Justine McCarthy


Claire Byrne:  Taking on RTÉ

Claire Byrne This is an important year for NewsTalk and its chairman Denis O'Brien. Towards the end of 2007, radio listenership figures will be out, delivering a verdict on NewsTalk's move to a national radio station. And O'Brien's business affairs will be probed by the Moriarty Tribunal, primarily the mobile phone license he was awarded for Esat Digifone.

Central to the success of NewsTalk's national campaign is the Breakfast Show, presented by Claire Byrne and Ger Gilroy (above). The Breakfast Show (6.30am-9am) competes against the most popular radio show in Ireland, Morning Ireland, which has a listenership of 442,000. Morning Ireland lost 17,000 listeners in the October 2005-September 2006 period. It is clear that RTÉ is rattled by NewsTalk's national move – it controversially overhauled its Radio One schedule earlier this year. It too will be waiting for the listenership figures to gauge if its new schedule is a success.

NewsTalk is targeting a younger market than RTÉ Radio One. Claire Byrne is NewsTalk's poster girl, drafted in to give the station's national launch a glamorous, high-profile edge and hopefully attract listenership. The Breakfast Show is lighter and less rigid than Morning Ireland, which can be formal and concentrates on hard news.

The Breakfast Show does quizzes, Gilroy and Byrne bounce off each other and there is laughter. Claire Byrne was recruited after she filled in for Orla Barry, another NewsTalk presenter, during the summer and proved a success with listeners. She had already worked in radio for five years in Britain, and says she prefers radio to television. She presented TV3's morning television programme Ireland AM for three years and then moved to the main news slot. Her move from TV3 to NewsTalk was not easy. TV3 insisted that she fulfill her three-month notice as well as a three-month non-compete clause in her contract. They ended up in the High Court, but settled and Byrne was able to start at NewsTalk after her three months' notice.

Emma Browne

Enda Kenny: Could be Taoiseach, if only...

Enda Kenny It is not entirely implausible that Enda Kenny will be Taoiseach halfway through 2007. Certainly he lacks the stature we associate with a Taoiseach, but then so too did Bertie Ahern before he became Taoiseach, also John Bruton, Albert Reynolds and Liam Cosgrave.

Unlike these others, however, he has no substantial political credentials to bolster his case. He was almost anonymous as tourism minister in the cabinet of his friend, John Bruton, from 1994 to 1997. He hardly contributed to Dáil debates – almost nothing at all while Michael Noonan was leader of Fine Gael. He never said anything memorable during his entire career until he became leader, aside from the commitment to “electrocute” the electorate if he was chosen to head Fine Gael.

He was faltering, even embarrassing, in his early Dáil outings as opposition leader. The expectation was he would be eclipsed from the opposition benches by Pat Rabbitte, a practiced and effective Dáil performer. But the outcome has been that Kenny has improved his performance to eclipse Rabbitte, who has disappointed. Only Joe Higgins has been more effective in harrying the government.

Enda Kenny was coached by Carr Communications in 2002, 2003 and 2004 but his resort to professional communicators has lessened recently. He has been able to fly on his own. His Dáil performances have often been effective and frequently he has scored points against Bertie Ahern, but to what effect is uncertain.

Fine Gael has identified crime, health, traffic and the waste of public expenditure as the issues it wants to fight on. All these resonate with the electorate or at least with that middle class, younger electorate that Fine Gael is targeting. But an absence of specific prescriptions for these issues could be damaging.

Essentially, Fine Gael promises merely better management, but is there any reason to believe that anybody on the Fine Gael front bench – with the possible exception of Richard Bruton – would be any better in any of their portfolios than the likes of Bertie Ahern himself, Brian Cowan, Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey and Mary Hanafin?

Enda Kenny was seen to be effective in two major Dáil clashes during 2006: the sex offenders “crisis” in June and the early stages of the ‘Bertiegate' affair in October. The sex offenders “crisis” went away when the Supreme Court did its magic trick in jailing someone for an offence it itself said did not exist. Kenny himself lost the bottle on the Bertiegate issue. Either he should not have bothered with it or he should have persisted with it. Bertie emerged with enhanced public regard, having failed to answer several significant questions arising from the affair. Enda Kenny simply sloped off.

He is a great mimic, can be very funny, great company and charming. Not enough they say; “there is not much to Enda” is the complaint. An associate of Bertie Ahern said of such criticism of the Fine Gael leader: “But there isn't much to Bertie either!”

There is one way Enda Kenny could be Taoiseach after the next election and it is to leave the way open to a deal with Sinn Féin. Fine Gael with, say, 48 seats, Labour with 23, Greens with seven and Sinn Féin with 10, would make up 88 seats, a clear, comfortable majority. But without Sinn Féin is seems unlikely Enda can make it.

Vincent Browne


Ban Ki-moon: New Secretary General of the UN

Ban Ki-Moon He has been described as “more secretary than general”. Ban Ki-moon arrived in New York for his first day of work as secretary general of the United Nations on 2 January with little known about his plans. At a recent dinner in New York for UN-based journalists, Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that he was known by journalists in Seoul as “Slippery Eel”, and in New York as the “Teflon diplomat”. These names pointed to the same thing, he said: “When I want to, I will elude you as masterfully as any secret agent,” he joked. The 62-year-old South Korean is the first Asian to head the UN in 35 years.

He has been a life-long diplomat, most recently South Korean foreign minister, in which capacity he chaired the recent six-nation talks that aimed, and have so far failed, to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. He has described himself as a ”harmoniser, balancer, mediator” and is aware of the criticism that he has no track record in tough diplomacy. “I may look soft from the outside, but I have inner strength when it's really necessary,” he has said.

He replaces Kofi Annan, who served two terms and 10 years as secretary general. Annan's first term was seen as successful, culminating in him winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. But his second has been dogged by findings of corruption and mismanagement in the UN's Iraqi oil-for-food programme, and by Annan's failure to achieve any consensus or take a clear stand on the invasion of Iraq.

Ban Ki-moon has stressed reform of the UN as one of his priorities, and vowed to restore trust in the UN secretariat and set “the highest ethical standard”.

Colin Murphy


Oliver Callan: Comedian

Oliver Callan This time last year, Oliver Callan was a 25-year-old newsreader on Today FM who would nip down to the Gift Grub studio and ‘anonymously' voice characters for the sketch series.

Then, last October, he got an invite onto a new young people's television show on RTÉ Two, The Café. His impersonations routine went so well that he was dropped by Gift Grub and taken on by RTÉ, and he “went overnight from being a newsreader to being a full-time comedy writer”.

Comedy was always the ambition, but it took a while to play out. He learned his trade as a mimic at the expense of a plethora of cousins from all over Ireland and England, who would come and stay with his family in Monaghan. As a young lad, he would take them off, until his father warned him: “Mockin' is catchin.'” And it caught.

At 15, he found tapes of the  Scrap Saturday radio series, and bought a dictaphone to start recording himself. At 16, he came second in a national comedy competition on Kenny Live. But school got in the way, and then college, where he did journalism.

Currently, he has a regular slot on The Café, and fronted the New Year's day special in which he took off Joe Duffy's New Year's eve special, with vox pops with ‘punters' about the state of the country. He has launched a rival to Gift Grub, called Nob Nation, which goes out during Marty Whelan's morning drivetime programme on 2FM (and is repeated later in the day on Derek Mooney's Radio One programme). And the rivalry doesn't end there: Callan is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with Gift Grub's Mario Rosenstock over claims that he (Callan) is due a share of the proceeds from this Christmas's Gift Grub compilation album.

For later in 2007, once The Café finishes, there are two possible series, depending on commissions – either a Spitting Image-style satirical show, or a GAA-based comedy show.

It's been a heady few months, which culminated in the Gingerman pub in Dublin recently when Callan got to put his pitch-perfect Enda Kenny impersonation to the ultimate test – the man himself. Kenny was gracious, but preferred Callan's Bertie Ahern. Which is appropriate, because a couple of weeks previously, Callan had been in Fagan's in Drumcondra and got to do his Bertie Ahern for Bertie Ahern. Bertie and his mates enjoyed it – but they preferred his Enda.

Colin Murphy


Ségolène Royal: Royal phenomenon takes hold

Segolene Royal Since Charles de Gaulle became president in January 1959, France has lived under a “monarchical republic” where the head of state is the sovereign. By May 2007, the French could have entered a new political era: a “Royal republic”.

That is if Ségolène Royal, candidate of the Parti Socialiste, is elected president in the two-round election on 22 April and 6 May against current interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy. A signal of the seriousness of her challenge is her resounding victory in the PS primary on 16 November 2006, where she received 60.7 per cent of the votes of the party's 218, 771 members.

The arrival of “Ségo” as head of state would be a transformational moment. The macho culture of French politics would be defied and the conventions of French family life would be subverted – she is not married to her partner and father of her four children, François Hollande, general secretary of the Parti Socialiste.

Her style is different too, not just her fashion (one opponent said of her that if “the devil wears Prada, the she-devil wears Paule Ka [her Parisian dressmaker]”) but also her politics. She talks “the basics, stupid!”: about helping housewives back to work, school problems, street safety. She listens to people and promises to help them write the story they want onto the public agenda, deliberately shunning ideological battles or philosophical niceties.

This different language appears to be what people want in French society. Sixty per cent of young people fear that their lives will be worse than those of their parents and people have stopped believing in, and even listening to, politicians drafted from a Parisian élite who they feel have lost touch with the real world.

It is worth noting that the Parti Socialiste, the most unreconstructed of Europe's mainstream socialist parties – the one most opposed to globalisation and to seriously reforming the traditional social safety-net – have chosen a candidate who has adopted a strategy owing a lot to that of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair: triangulation, pragmatism, keeping closely in touch with public opinion and with social issues as they are lived on the ground. She has even suggested that there is some good in Blair's policies. Her opponents promised this sacrilege would destroy her. It didn't.

It's looking increasingly likely that 2007 will prove to be the year of the Royal phenomenon.

Patrice de Beer, ©


Treasury Holdings: Taking over the world

In 2006, Treasury Holdings established itself as a major international developer, announcing the development of the first eco-city in the world, in China, and buying  the London landmark, Battersea power station for £400m.

The China development is to be called Dongtan, an eco-city which will be in the suburbs of Shanghai. The city will be on an island 42km off the coast. It will be linked to the mainland by a new 9km tunnel together with a 13km bridge, both currently under construction. On the island there will be 18,000 housing units, three commercial town centres, offices and civic space, an international golf resort with two 18-hole courses and an Olympics-grade equestrian centre. The city will be powered by renewable energy.

As well as Dongtan, Treasury Holdings are developing the Expo Village in Shangahi for the World Expo in 2010. According to one half of Treasury Holdings, Richard Barrett, the company will be doing lots more work in China – one third of  the company will be in China in the next three or four years.

The Battersea power station development is one of the largest regenerations to happen in London. The site is 38 acres, of which six acres comprise the power station, the largest brick building in Europe. The site is set alongside 380 metres of the Thames, in the London borough of Wandsworth. The current masterplan envisages a mixture of housing, hotels, retail, conference and exhibition space.

The men behind Treasury Holdings are 51-year-old Richard Barrett and 52-year-old Johnny Ronan. The two became business partners in 1989 when they realised they were bidding for the same development. They were friends, having attended Castleknock College together. Ronan is from Tipperary and Richard Barrett from Co Mayo.

Barrett, formerly a barrister, is the quieter of the two. Ronan, on the other hand, likes the highlife. He owns an amphibious Hummer, is one of only two Irish people who have bought a €650,000 Maybach car, and lives in a gigantic house in Enniskerry adorned with expensive artwork. Ronan, who trained as accountant, is easily recognisable with slick long black hair and beard. One journalist compared his look to that of Robert DeNiro in The Mission. He parties with the likes of Bono and Eamon Dunphy.

In Ireland, Treasury carried out the €4.5bn Spencer Dock development and will be building a new town centre in Balgaddy, Clondalkin in the next few years as well as redeveloping the Stillorgan Shopping Centre.

Emma Browne


Michael Keegan-Dolan: Dancer, choreographer, director

Michael Keegan-Dolan is “reeling”. He's just back from a two-week workshop in Canada with the theatre guru Robert lePage, and in the new year he goes to Brussels to work as lePage's choreographer on Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. Keegan-Dolan is used to planning his own, very ambitious work on his laptop, and seeing the resources and research lePage could afford “really takes the breath away”, he says.

He arrived back in Ireland to find his revival of The Flowerbed – a manic dance theatre show about two feuding families in Irish suburbia – had been elected best dance show of 2006 by Time Out magazine in London. And in late January, he'll find out if that show has won him the Critics' Circle Dance Award for best choreography, for which he was nominated earlier this month.

Then, in February, Keegan-Dolan revives his 2005 Dublin Theatre Festival hit, The Bull, at the Barbican in London, the first in a three-show commission that will help keep him busy till 2009.

The Bull was the second part in an intended “Midlands Trilogy”, part homage, part satire of his homeland. The first part, Giselle, took the Dublin Theatre Festival by storm in 2003. It was one of the most talked-about shows in recent years and those who missed it have been ruing the day since. There are plans to revive Giselle in 2007 and stage it alongside the third part in the trilogy, to be called James of the Midlands. The latter is “a Jesus-type story”, says Keegan-Dolan.

Of the “plans”, he'll say no more – it all depends on funding, and also on his success in hiring a full-time producer for his Fabulous Beast company, for the first time. “I've been running this thing pretty much single-handedly for a long time. It's all getting a bit much,” he says.

For a man who says he only got his scholarship to study ballet in London “because I had a penis, and they needed penises to populate the school”, he seems to be doing pretty well. Yet, when Giselle opened to ecstatic reviews three years ago, it looked like stardom was around the corner.

“Presenters – they were all rolling up to see it and many people pencilled it and a lot of people booked it. But when push came to shove, they all chickened out.”

“I thought I was going to get famous,” he has said, “but I didn't.”

This could be the year.

Colin Murphy


Ronan O'Gara: World Cup hopes rest on him

There is a chance Ireland could make the final of the Rugby World Cup in France on 20 September next. Were Ireland to win its pool, which includes France and Argentina, it would most likely meet Scotland in the quarter finals and, were it to beat them, meet England or Australia in the semi-finals. Then it would face New Zealand.

Much depends on luck, a great deal depends on Ronan O'Gara. Were he to be injured or off form, the team could hardly survive. There are comparable players on the side – Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and, possibly, Shane Horgan, Denis Leamy and David Wallace. But not one of them is as crucial to this team as is O'Gara, because of his serene control of the game and the anxious reality that there is no ready replacement.

He has matured greatly as a player. He said in that controversial interview with the Guardian a few months ago that, for him, rugby now is 80 per cent mental, being able to see what is going on and respond tactically. He has developed that capacity in a masterful manner over the last two to three years. He is also a better tactical kicker than he was – perhaps the best in the world now – he is a better passer of the ball, better at getting the best from his super-talented three-quarter line  and better at compensating for his deficiencies in defence.

Aside from his tactical acumen, his kicking and his play-making, his great talent now is not letting mistakes overwhelm or even distract him. It is an extraordinary talent, made all the more vivid in the semi-final of last year's Heineken Cup semi-final at Lansdowne Road, when the extravagantly talented Felipe Contemponi of Leinster was forced into early errors and allowed his game to collapse. That doesn't happen to O'Gara.

If he were injured, Ireland has no credible replacement at out-half, now that David Humphries has retired from international rugby.

Vincent Browne


David Nally: Editor of Prime Time, RTÉ television

David Nally was an awkward, suspicious, cantankerous youth when he joined the Sunday Tribune in the early-1980s. He seemed almost depressive at times, lethargic, unmotivated. He is not that different today: awkward, suspicious, cantankerous, seemingly depressive, lethargic and unmotivated. But that impression was, and is, deceptive.

He is clever, persistent, professional and, surprisingly perhaps, good at driving a team. Under him, RTÉ television's main current affairs programme has again found an edge and relevance. In truth, it had discovered this before Nally was appointed editor of Prime Time, when the present RTÉ director of television, Noel Curran, returned to take over Prime Time again, having left the programme for some years, during which time it had languished.

Curran's elevation was regarded as a mistake by some, who thought his drive and focus would not easily be replaced at Prime Time – the position of director of television is hardly as influential as that of editor of Prime Time. David Nally was not the favoured replacement but he emerged from the field and has proved superb.

Not that Prime Time is always good – many of its regular Tuesday and Thursday programmes are missable, as the 15-minute items often add little or nothing to what has already been on the Nine O'Clock News. But Prime Time Investigates has been largely superb, notably the exposure of the deplorable conditions at Leas Cross. Had it not been for Prime Time, yet more years would have gone by before something was done about conditions in nursing homes.

He will play a crucial role in 2007, the year of a general election. His choice of issues and how they are handled will help shape the agenda for that election.
There is hardly an acknowledgement (or awareness?) on the part of RTÉ of how significant its news judgements are in determining the political agenda, from Morning Ireland through the Pat Kenny Show, to News at One, Drivetime, the television news bulletins and Prime Time. It is an unavoidably ideological judgement, determining what is important, and not important, and the priorities into which issues fall.

Of late, RTÉ has been an unwitting and largely unconscious determinant of an agenda that is essentially right-wing. Its focus on crime, on waste, on traffic and on tax has been influential. The recent emphasis on conditions in privatised health facilities could also be influential.

David Nally's judgments will matter in 2007.

Vincent Browne