November 25, 2020
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Memo to the Taoiseach – stop waffling, start governing

To misquote George Orwell: all counties are equal but some counties are more equal than others.

The Government says we are all in this together, but its five-step campaign against Covid-19 undoubtedly treats Dublin differently from the other 25 counties. Its wet pubs can’t re-open, it has tighter restrictions on attendance at outdoor events, and stricter regulations about travel, calling on friends and visiting nursing homes.

That all seems reasonable to me. The rate of Covid infection is far greater in Dublin than anywhere else and it is logical that  tougher measures should be taken there to curb it.

So why has the Government not simply accepted the Opposition’s jibe that Dublin is on stage two-and-a-half of the five-point programme? There is no disgrace in that.

Living With Covid is a plan, not the  unalterable law of the Medes and Persians. It was written in Government Buildings not Mount Sinai, on a computer screen, not a tablet of stone.

The plan allows for regional differences and if the risk-level in some regions does not fall neatly into one of the five stages, then the regulations should be tweaked to give the best result.

But instead of acknowledging this as a fact of Covid life, Micheál Martin has persisted with the fantasy that the entire country is on Level  Two. All equal, but  Dublin just happens to  be more restricted than the others.

The Taoiseach’s stance spreads uncertainty and confusion which is the last thing we need and, sadly, has been the hallmark of this Government in most of its Covid dealings.

No-one can be certain of the right way to combat this virus but the countries doing best are those where the government is clear and its actions decisive.

This was true of our last government –  the interim, unelected government of Fine Gael and a few independents. When Covid struck, it immediately introduced  schemes to ease the plight of employers and their locked-down staff. It rented space from private hospitals to guard against a run on beds and it issued a clear roadmap, setting out what was closed and when it might reopen.

People could understand what was being done for them and what was expected from them. And when the policies were changed – as, inevitably, they were – people could understand the reason for the changes, because they understood the policies in the first place.

That Government’s approach was in obvious contrast to the confusion in neighbouring Britain, where regional administrations were at odds with each other and the central government changed its mind from day to day.

Everyone remembers that terrible broadcast where a clearly-ill Boris Johnson told people to go to work but stay at home, keep their distance but help each other and prepare for the long-haul although it would all be over in a few weeks.

The result was a period during which Britain’s Covid figures were shockingly high.

Since Micheál Martin became Taoiseach, our Government has been following the Johnson model – waffling when it should be clear, bumbling when it needs to be sure-footed and hesitating when action is required.

We have seen what has happened to Ireland’s figures.

For all our sakes, I sincerely hope the Government has got it right this time. Living With Covid is a sensible programme. I like the idea of coding the different counties, so we can see if things are slipping in our own locality and maybe do something about it before they go from bad to worse.

We all need to take personal responsibility if we want to keep Covid-19 at bay. But our individual actions need guidance to achieve a collective result. It helps if we can see that up in the control tower there is someone who knows what they are doing.

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