CHAOTIC is probably the most appropriate word to describe what has transpired across the country, politically and in terms of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, since the last weekend of June when the new Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party coalition government took office to coincide with Phase 3 of the lifting of the restrictions that had been put in place to suppress the coronavirus.
Leaving aside Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s political woes – of which there have been many, mostly outside of his control – the 10-fold rise in the Covid-19 infection rate per 100,000 head of population since then is extremely worrying and the new government seems to have difficulty commanding the respect and confidence of the general public as it seeks to reverse the trend. This was not helped by the ‘Golfgate’ incident last week, when the Oireacthas Golf Society hosted 81 people – including many prominent politicians and public figures – at its 50th anniversary dinner in Clifden in flagrant breach of government restrictions of numbers allowed to attend indoor gatherings. It was inevitable that such bad example should lead to heads rolling, the two most prominent being Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary – after only 37 days in the job – and leas-cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Corkman Jerry Buttimer.
Other noteworthies in attendance, such as EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan who since resigned, Supreme Court Judge Séamus Woulfe and retired RTÉ broadcaster Seán O’Rourke, made their apologies too, but ignorance of the law is not a defence. They are intelligent people and should have known well enough that the restrictions were being breached and had the gumption to get up and walk away from the function.
Their apologies rang very hollow with the public at large who, rightly, would have expected more from them. People have been giving out about young people organising house parties in breach of the numbers allowed at indoor gatherings and social distancing rules, but to see their dangerous misbehaviour being mirrored by an older demographic that should know better is frightening as well as downright arrogant and irresponsible.
Granted, there have been misunderstandings over the reduced numbers to be allowed at gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, since last week’s tightening of restrictions, because of miscommunication on the government’s part and some of the attempted clarifications issued only adding to the confusion. However, it was never the case that more than 80 people at an indoor function was allowable and, adding the hotel staff involved would have brought the number at the Clifden event to over 100, making it an even more scandalous breach.
It is a slap in the face to people who have been unable to have even small gatherings for the funerals of loved ones since the pandemic began and to all the couples who have had to cancel their weddings because of the cap on numbers. However, it is an even bigger insult to frontline health workers who have been put to the pin of their collars in dealing with Covid-19 and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) who are fighting a tough enough uphill battle to suppress the virus back down to June levels without the political elite they are advising ignoring them like this.
In the early days of the pandemic, the public health messaging was quite clear and concise, following the advice of NPHET more or less to the letter. However, since they started easing the restrictions, there has been more nit-picking between the new government and NPHET, making it seem like too many cooks are spoiling the broth.
The messaging seems to have become more a la carte at a time when we need to get back to the set menu and stick to it, especially these days as the schools are re-opening and we could be exposing ourselves us to a raft of new clusters of Covid outbreaks.