Trying to manage a country is hard, but trying to manage a country during a global pandemic is even more difficult. Taoiseach Micheál Martin was not alone in struggling to keep the country satisfied while trying to defeat an invisible enemy.
A global pandemic meant that certain freedoms had to be restricted, while anti-lockdown or anti-maskers might disagree with this, it is actually justified. However, these restrictions would have ended earlier if there was better leadership.
The virus is unpredictable but leaders must implement every possible measure there is to defeat it. It took months of pressure from Zero Covid activists for the government to finally agree to mandatory hotel quarantine (MHQ), which is needed to prevent the spread of the virus and any variants. This should have been implemented from the start.
However, the government did not put down countries that were of obvious risk to Ireland, rather they put countries that did not even have a direct flight to Dublin. Pressure mounted on the government again and they finally listed high risk countries, including our next-door neighbour.
Ireland’s first recorded case of the covid19 virus was from an individual who just came back from a holiday in Italy. Granted, Martin was not in charge at this time, but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who is also a doctor, and his interim government were and they did not think to implement MHQ.
Around Christmas, NPHET warned the government that opening up too early would cause a rise in cases. Martin and his government decided to ignore that advice and opened up for a few weeks during the Christmas period, which was the biggest mistake ever. In fact, Ireland saw more deaths and cases in January 2021, than all of 2020 (100,000 cases, 1000 deaths), all because of that mistake.
We found ourselves back in lockdown because of this incompetence. Why did Martin listen to hospitality lobby groups, rather than health experts? It is understandable that the government has to also handle the economy, but the data was clear, we were not ready to open up and should have just stuck to the take aways.
“Anti-NPHET” sentiments started to grow, even in the Taoiseach’s own party. Dublin Bay South Fianna Fáil candidate, Deirdre Conroy, even tried distancing herself from her party’s own decisions, claiming that it’s NPHET and the HSE that’s making all the decision, failing to mention that NPHET are just advisors and that it is actually cabinet that decides which restrictions will be put in place.
Speaking of restrictions, some of them were quite bizarre and did not help in any way. Remember the €9 pub rule? apparently, a meal before you have your alcoholic beverage helped in stopping the spread of the virus. And those take away pints, a loophole allowed those to be sold, but the Gardaí said you cannot drink in public. We couldn’t even use the toilets anymore in public places and had to resort to portaloos, which in my opinion were small and had long ques attached. I don’t know how they were trying to prevent the spread of the virus when the queue started at St Stephen Green’s Shopping Centre and ended in Dawson Street.
Covid19 outbreaks were happening in schools, direct provision centres, Traveller halting sites, nursing homes and other places. Opposition TDs, Trade Unions, NGOs and other groups tried to warn of the dangers of these outbreaks and the need for safer measures or for staff to be vaccinated. Some SNAs and Teachers were particularly furious with the “schools are safe” motto repeated by the Taoiseach, Minister for Education and even NPHET.
Vaccine rollout was also very slow, with a population of just over 5 million, one would expect that we would be done by now, compared to other countries in Europe.
Currently, 2 million people are fully vaccinated, compared to France, which has 23 million people vaccinated or Spain, with 20 million vaccinated. However, with the Delta variant, the government has decided to speed things up by allowing 18–34-year-olds to get any left-over doses in pharmacies.
Basically POL COLa bit of notice to those participating pharmacies would have helped. The media was actually notified first, before the pharmacies themselves, which is not good.
All in all, with 276k cases and 5000 deaths, the Taoiseach has been an average leader when it comes to the pandemic, especially when you compare him to our neighbours, who want to get rid of all restrictions and mask wearing on the 19th of July for their “Freedom Day”. Yesterday the UK reported 32k new cases and 33 new deaths.
Our response might not have been the best and it certainly is not the zero covid dream implemented by leaders in Australia and New Zealand, but our Taoiseach does sometimes listen to the science, as evident when he delayed indoor dining due to a rise in cases. I don’t think we will be getting rid of restrictions like the UK, any time soon.