April 23, 2021
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: The darkest day will soon be behind us

It has been a long winter. It started last March and has rolled across nine months with scarcely a break, through lockdowns and closures, a lot of stress, some real fears, some unnecessary panic and some terrible heartbreak.

But as the poet Shelley reminds us: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

And now the year’s shortest day is just around the corner. In every way our lives  will start to get brighter.

The vaccine is on its way. Donald Trump is leaving the White House. We may even manage a deal on Brexit.

So goodbye and good riddance to 2020, the year when winter never ended. Success is always measured by comparison and, compared with the year that’s about to take its leave, 2021 is bound to be a glowing success.

Many tears were shed in 2020 and there are none to spare for its departure. But there are a few things that can be noted with satisfaction.

The first is the impressive performance of Ireland’s health system. I had great fears for it at the start of the pandemic when it seemed to be in worse shape than that of any of our main EU partners, even worse than the crumbling NHS next door.

In fact it has stood the test extremely well. In Italy and Spain,we have seen gyms and army bases converted into emergency clinics, people treated in the  car parks of overflowing hospitals in Britain and Northern Ireland, and even in Germany, top of the table in most health-care leagues, packed hospitals have been turning away the sick.

Ireland’s rickety system has been under strain but it has not cracked. I hope I’m not speaking too soon, for there will almost certainly be a third wave of the virus and some further lockdown, before recovery is achieved. But if people behave themselves over Christmas, I think we can see through the early new year, whatever it brings.

The Irish health system still needs a big overhaul and sensible investment. But we recognised its flaws right from the start of the pandemic and acted accordingly. We have, with a few exceptions, behaved as a proper society; caring for the weak, safeguarding the elderly and keeping schools running so that the lives of young people were not disrupted more than was necessary.

And, whatever the problems of our health system, there is none with the people who work in it. The nurses, doctors and all the back-up staff, have been magnificent. Ireland is in safe hands.

There are many other people who also deserve praise for keeping the country running: teachers and gardaí, for instance. Some rarely get applause: supermarket staff, postal workers, bus and train drivers and the teams who collect our bins.

And some never get applause: politicians.

Yes, politicians. And no I haven’t taken leave of my senses.

In the middle of this awful year we had a general election and a change of government which involved changes in many of the key ministries. Yet the fight against Covid-19 has continued in an almost seamless fashion and, despite all the criticism we throw at it, compares well with that of other countries – the USA, most obviously.

On a working level, our politicians compare well, too. If you doubt that, take  a look up the road at Stormont.

So it wasn’t all bad in 2020. But it came damn close.

Thankfully, it will soon be behind us.

I quoted Shelley at the start of this piece, which is rather pretentious, but, sure, it’s Christmas.

His ode sees the West Wind sweeping away the leaves of autumn like “pestilence-stricken multitudes” to clear the ground for spring.

I can feel it coming. This pestilence will soon be swept away.

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