The HSE Cyber-attack, COVID-19, and the Taliban seizure of power in Afghanistan were some of the most important news stories in Ireland in 2021. This is according to research undertaken as part of the Core Cultural Index 2021, compiled by Ireland’s largest marketing communications company, and based on the views of 12,000 participants discussing 200 news stories across nine categories.

Core’s research asked interviewees which stories they were aware of across the year and which they believed were most important to them personally. Analysis of the responses indicated that the top ten stories for public awareness captured the attention of up to 81% of the population, with stories relating

COVID-19, housing, climate, social issues and sport.

Top 5 Pandemic stories of 2021:

  • COVID-19 restrictions ease in April
  • Omicron variant found in Europe
  • June re-opening announcement
  • March announcement of easing of lockdown restrictions
  • In June, Delta variant of COVID-19 becomes dominant strain

The top five pandemic stories lead with a story of hope. After a post-Christmas lockdown that was continuously extended, the number one COVID-19 story was the easing of restrictions in April, resulting in people not having to restrict themselves to their 5KM.

People began to engage more with milestones in the number of vaccines administered rather than case numbers. However, things can quickly change as the second most significant COVID-19 story was the arrival of the Omicron variant.

Top five General stories of 2021:

  • HSE Cyberattack
  • Taliban seize power in Afghanistan
  • Budget 2022 announced
  • Heatwave occurs across Ireland
  • Electric Ireland raises prices of gas and electricity for second time in four months

As previously mentioned, the HSE Cyberattack topped the list of most important stories beyond COVID-19. However, in August the pictures of the Taliban seizing power in Afghanistan also engaged the public. In complete contrast, as people were planning holidays at home, news of Irelands summer heatwave was popular, however as winter set in attention turned towards the national Budget and rising energy prices.

Top five Business stories of 2021:

  • Ulster Bank announce the company will withdraw from the Irish market
  • Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp go offline for a number of hours
  • Fire causes significant damage to Glenisk factory.
  • Government announces code of conduct to give employees the right to disconnect
  • Davy fined €4.1 million after senior staff benefit from bond trade

On the evening of Monday 27th September, a fire broke out at Glenisk’s factory based in Tullamore. As a result, the popular yogurt brand disappeared from supermarket fridges. 67% of the Irish public were aware of the incident and of this, 75% said it was important. As a result, 50% of the Irish public felt the fire causing significant damage to Glenisk was a significant story.

Top five Political stories of 2021:

  • Tánaiste Leo Varadkar under investigation after leak of confidential documents
  • President Higgins declines invitation to service marking creation of Northern Ireland
  • Questions asked about the appointment process of Katherine Zappone
  • Zappone hosts party, raising questions about COVID-19 guidelines, attended by politicians
  • Arlene Foster steps down as leader of DUP and Northern Ireland’s First Minister

On the 21 July 2021, associates and former colleagues of former Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, attended an outdoor gathering at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, six days prior to her controversial appointment as UN special envoy. Questions were raised about whether the event breached COVID-19 guidelines, resulting in 48% of the public saying this was a significant news story.

This political story was more important than the Dublin Bay South by-election and received more coverage than the Government’s February plans to end Direct Provision by 2024.

Top five Sports stories of 2021:

  • Kellie Harrington has success in the Olympics
  • Danish footballer Christian Eriksen suffers cardiac arrest while playing at Euro 2020
  • Paul O’Donovan & Fintan McCarthy claim Olympic gold
  • English football players subjected to racial abuse
  • Euro 2020 begins with matches held across various European countries

On the morning of 8th August, thousands of Irish sports fans woke early to watch Kellie Harrington defeat Beatriz Ferreira 5–0 and win the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. 62% of the public believed this was a significant moment in Irish sport.

Another significant moment was when Danish footballer Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest while playing at Euro 2020 (57% said this was important) as well as when English football players were subjected to racial abuse (49%). Just under half the population (47%) said Mayo finally beating Dublin was significant, while 43% of people said Rachel Blackmore winning at Cheltenham was an important sports story.

Top five Pop-culture stories of 2021:

  • The Late Late Toy Show raises over €6 million for charity
  • Britney Spears conservatorship terminated after 13 years
  • Electric Picnic 2021 is cancelled
  • Harry & Meghan - Oprah interview
  • Dublin City Council approve Garth Brooks Croke Park concerts for 2022

During the first half of the year, when strong restrictions were in place, Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was the most-watched programme on Irish television. The interview secured 799,671 viewers for RTÉ2 on a Monday night in March, clearly demonstrating an interest in their lives among the Irish public.

57% of people said the interview was of importance, more so than Love Island and the cancellation of the Rose of Tralee.

However, the Late Late Toy Show topped the list of most significant pop culture moments, followed by the termination of Britney Spear’s conservatorship influenced by the ‘FreeBritney’ movement.

Finian Murphy, Marketing Director at Core, says: “With a growing group of people reading headlines on social media platforms, driven by algorithms and attractive Clickbait, the Core Cultural Index is sustained evidence that pop culture can often garner more interest than political decisions which impact many of us. The Core Review 2021 not only provides a moment to reflect on the year that was, but also guides us into the next 12 months, providing us with the news stories which will matter most to the Irish public.”

Core Cultural Index 2021
Core Cultural Index 2021
Core Cultural Index 2021, compiled by Ireland’s largest marketing communications company, and based on the views of 12,000 participants.