Surveying the demise of the Celtic Tiger, Fintan O’Toole devoted an opening essay ‘‘Do you know what a republic is?’ The Adventure and Misadventure of an Idea’ in Up the Republic! Towards a New Ireland (2012) to assessing the health of the Irish Republic. He considered its vitality based on the presence, or otherwise, of three indicators: Non-Domination; Mixed Government and tolerance of Obstreperous Citizens.
These features of a healthy republic, he wrote, diverge from a narrow form of republicanism associated with Rousseau ‘which argues for the notion of a single, sovereign popular will: ‘the People’ effectively taking the place of the king in a monarchy.’ Up to that point in Ireland, O’Toole argued, this latter, narrow version had predominated, which he associated ‘in vulgar terms’ with appeals being made to ‘pull on the green jersey’’; and where ‘an idea of accountability implicit in mixed government is ditched.’
‘For most of the history of the state’, O’Toole concluded that the state ‘failed miserably in the basic task of ensuring citizens were free from subjection to the arbitrary will of others.’[i]
Now, as Ireland slowly unwinds from an interminable lockdown that tendency of Irish governments to pull on the green jersey, avoid accountability, reject obstreperousness and a conspicuous failure to ensure that citizens are free from the subjection to the arbitrary will of others, is evident once again. This regression has arrived especially through what O’Toole himself described on April 28th, 2020 as the ‘top-down, command-and-control approach’ of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), which the elected government has deferred to throughout most of the pandemic.
The Irish government should take in broader insights than those now offered by NPHET to chart a humane course through the pandemic.https://t.co/iJWoaaEnfJ@broadsheet_ie @edbrophy @liamherrick @Patrickttierney @EamonRyan @LeoVaradkar @cathmartingreen @MichealMartinTD @Aosdana
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) October 9, 2020
Times of War
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to reshape the Irish political landscape, eroding foundational certainties of left and right. When the dust settles new formations may crawl from the debris, with democracy itself in peril, as the coalition government chooses to extend emergency powers until November, while other countries such as Denmark aim for a swift return to normality.
In terms of the pandemic’s wide-ranging impact, there are parallels with the outbreak of a global war. As Hannah Arendt put it: ‘The days before and the days after the first World War are separated not like the end of the an old and the beginning of a new period, but like the day before and the day after an explosion.’[ii]
Placing billions under lockdown around the world had a shuddering effect on daily routines, altering intimate exchanges and gestures, besides radically reducing the ambit of daily peregrinations. It’s a very modern form of trench warfare that confined most of us to within 5km of barracks – spilling out invective on (anti-)social media.
In Ireland, with the advent of bigger government, there is a confidence among some on the left that their time has arrived, and that a relatively youthful population will vanquish age-old privileges of wealth and caste through a permanently enlarged state.
However, as Eric Hobsbawm records, one reason Engels (and even the late Marx) ‘began to turn away from calculations that the international war might be an instrument of revolution was the discovery that it would lead to ‘the recrudescence of chauvinism in all countries’ which would serve the ruling classes.’[iii]
Similarly, nationalism chauvinism – ‘excessive or prejudiced support for one’s own cause, group, or sex’ – has been witnessed throughout the pandemic in Ireland. This is perhaps unsurprising as, historically, infectious diseases have given rise to, and fed, plagues of prejudice and outright racism; the diseased ‘other’ at the gates of the city is a recurring theme. Ruling classes have often put forward strongman rulers to harness this xenophobic sentiment.
Duncan Mclean of Médecins Sans Frontières charts the scapegoating that has occurred throughout the history of plagues from Jews in the Black Death to 'Typhoid' Mary.https://t.co/IPNQSDFzLE@broadsheet_ie @amandaknox @pyjamas_black @ChristianaSpens @doctorskunk @think_or_swim
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) March 13, 2020
Since March 2020 we have poured over spreadsheets of daily deaths, infections, testing rates and vaccine roll outs to determine how ‘we’ are doing relative to ‘them.’ In Ireland we tend to measure achievements and failures against the noisy neighbour next door, whose boorish leader has somehow managed to transform one of the world’s highest death tolls per capita from Covid-19 into a great British victory pageant, through a rapid vaccine rollout. Boris now looks unassailable, notwithstanding Brexit storm clouds, Dominic’s revenge, Indian variants; and just the suspicion that the vaccine may not prove quite the panacea it seems now in winter 2022. Time will tell.
Indeed, the narrative arc of Boris Johnson’s response to the pandemic should serve as a warning to the Irish left that ruling classes can easily steal their best clothes. In this respect, Johnson operated with far greater flexibility than Donald Trump, shifting from a ‘take on the chin’ herd immunity approach in March, 2020 to championing what he would have previously decried as a ‘nanny state’ lockdown. He and his chumocracy used the pandemic as a pretext for introducing draconian legislation against protest and civil disobedience, apparently aimed at movements such as Extinction Rebellion.
The End of American Leadership by Christopher Parkison
FDR said there was nothing to fear but fear itself, while JFK asked what you can do for your country; now Donald Trump resorts to blaming foreigners.#FDR #JFK #Trump #TrumpMeltdown https://t.co/JrJupSJhKI@broadsheet_ie
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) May 12, 2020
Similarly, though less dramatically, Leo Varadkar resuscitated his political career after Fine Gael’s disastrous performance in General Election 2020, donning proverbial scrubs for the initial phase of the pandemic. Having identified himself with “early-rising” middle class voters Varadkar was smart enough to realise that his preferred Thatcherite policy of reliance on an Invisible Hand of market forces could lead to a public health disaster during a pandemic.
Since entering the coalition, Fine Gael Ministers have emphasised a law and order approach – Simon ‘TikTok’ Harris was quick off the blocks denouncing as ‘disgusting, grotesque and obscene’ a comparatively unobstreperous anti-lockdown protest in Dublin by European standards. Fine Gael have also allowed Fianna Fail to act as a mudguard for a failing system of public health: Ireland’s health expenditure is the third highest in the EU, yet we have only 5 ICU beds per 100,000, compared to 35 in Germany and 28 in Austria.
Photographer Daniele Idini captures the scene at the anti-lockdown demonstration in Dublin yesterday, Saturday, February 27th, 2021.https://t.co/CJRMJ3w4Kz@danieleidiniph1 @wadeinthewate11 @broadsheet_ie @connolly16frank @Elzobub @johnharris1969 @VillageMagIRE @BowesChay
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) February 28, 2021
Fine Gael represents itself as a centrist party, placing emphasis on its belated support for marriage equality and abortion referendums, which obscures from a failure in government to address structural inequalities and ongoing environmental damage. Replacing James Reilly as Minister for Health in 2015 Leo Varadkar promptly abandoned universal health insurance (UHI).
After becoming leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar claimed he would represent thrusting early risers – tantamount to saying he would not alter structural inequalities that are most apparent in access to housing. In combination with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael has represented the dominant interest of large property owners, indifferent to whether their wealth is maintained via independent corporate entities, the state, or as in Ireland’s case increasingly, a corporate-state nexus.
Simple distinctions of left and right are often misleading. Thus, when considering the virtues, or otherwise, of big government it should be clear that administrative levers and patronage may drive inequality; most obviously through mind-boggling salaries, such as the €420k paid to the Director General of a dysfunctional HSE, Paul Reid – ironically a former Workers’ Party activist. Reid has no medical or scientific qualifications, and previously acted as chief executive of Fingal County Council.
Moreover, left-wing politicians and their supporters are often drawn from higher income groups; a tendency that within Fine Gael circles used to be referred to as noblesse oblige – accompanied by the obligatory glass of fine Cognac – of which the Just Society was the apotheosis. But a left-wing identity may be superficial, as the distribution of state largesse, or patronage, apart from being expressed in high public sector salaries, often benefits established professional elites of lawyers, academics and indeed doctors.
The failure of the #JustSociety movement within #FineGael was a turning point in Irish history. David Langwallner recalls the contradictory career of Declan Costello.https://t.co/RdNsjfXqJX@broadsheet_ie @ConorBlenner @vincentbrowne @LumberBob @KevinHIpoet1967 @liamherrick
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) May 11, 2020
Big government patronage motors along fine in Ireland for all concerned as long as the tech and pharma sectors do the heavy economic lifting. This is the ‘Leprechaun Economics’ that Paul Krugman referred to dismissively. But now the Biden administration’s taxation proposed changes to the global tax system may make the current Irish model unworkable. The ECB is also likely to desist eventually from quantitative easing, with inflation looming.
Renewed fiscal rectitude and the prospect of multinationals leaving a perpetually unaffordable capital city for workers, will place increasing reliance on those indigenous SMEs that have endured the Crash of 2008, and the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. Yet whole sectors have been furloughed for over a year, with some such as events and tourism wondering whether they have a future at all. The Central Bank has warned that one in four firms could fail when pandemic payments cease.
It should be unsurprising, therefore, for a small businessperson living from transaction to transaction to be wary of parties promising higher taxation on the left, and instead be attracted to politicians on the right, or even far-right, that are acquainted with the language of commerce, however superficial this may be, in the case of Leo Varadkar at least, whose concern for SMEs has disappeared after his supportive comments proved unpopular last October.
'None of those people would have faced being on #PUP, none of them have to tell someone they are losing their job, none of them will have to shutter a business for the last time' – Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on #NPHET #cblive pic.twitter.com/ZAw7sDxGLo
— Claire Byrne Live (@ClaireByrneLive) October 5, 2020
An objective for a progressive left should be to attract support from an increasingly marginalised mercantile class, emphasising that a favourable environment for entrepreneurship, as in Scandinavia, is enabled by efficient public service, including a one-tier, functioning health system. The left can argue that leaving healthcare to market forces – as in the U.S. – is not only deeply unfair, but also, crucially, leads to greater costs than a functioning one tier public system which also – as in most European countries – delivers better outcomes overall.
The inherent danger of Ireland’s two-tier model, where health care provision is subject to market forces is epitomised by a question recently posed by a Goldman Sachs executive: “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” In an age of profound health insecurities – which are amplified through subtle advertising cues – market forces will continue to distort public health priorities.
It was the father of economics Adam Smith who warned: ‘People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.’ However, while resisting a buccaneering tendency in the delivery of a vital government service such as healthcare, the left cannot afford to dismiss the dynamism of entrepreneurship in society at large. Just imagine the food you would be served if the government was running all the restaurants.
Following Public Health Guidance
While there are a range of financial supports available to SMEs, the world-beating length of Ireland’s lockdown has made trade impossible for many businesses, some of which may never recover. The failure of the two centre-right parties in government to represent their concerns arguably, lies at the heart of Ireland’s deeply flawed response to the pandemic.
From March to June, 2020, 96% of additional deaths related to COVID-19 in Europe occurred in patients aged older than 70 years. Yet, despite having the youngest population in the Union, according to a Reuters by February Ireland had endured 163 days of workday closures. This was the highest, by some measure, of all the European countries surveyed at that point. By contrast, Denmark had lost just fifteen days, having experienced a death toll almost half that of Ireland’s per capita.
The uncritical attitude of mainstream Irish left wing parties towards public health officials should also be reconsidered. Recall the major mistakes in particular by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, who saw nothing wrong with fans going to Cheltenham in early March, 2020, ordered care homes to re-open to visitors that same month, and then transferred 4,500 untested patients back into care homes – surely contributing to the second highest level of care home mortality in the world during the first wave. Yet Irish left wing politicians have consistently complained about the government failing ‘to follow public health advice,’ despite Holohan’s long history of cock-ups and cover-ups.
An Irish doctor tending to elderly patients explains how the virus has spread its wings to envelope the entire campus and wonders who is going to helphttps://t.co/NrIxxSCLdW@broadsheet_ie @think_or_swim @ConorBlenner @doctorskunk @e_farries @AlanGilsenan1 @SocDems @RBoydBarrett
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) April 26, 2020
Even before Christmas NPHET – a body composed primarily of career civil servants and notably short on scientific expertise – seemed to have been all on board for the ’meaningful Christmas’ of Micheal Martin’s imagination. The only significant deviation between the government’s approach and NPHET’s advice was that the latter preferred to permit household gatherings rather than opening the hospitality sector. Cue raucous Christmas house parties, as opposed to what were mainly orderly affairs in pubs and restaurants.
In fact, Ireland’s ‘third’ wave, which coincided with the more transmissible B.119 variant (although apparently not more lethal as was widely reported) actually commenced in week 48 of 2020 (22/11/2020), while the country was still under Level 5 Lockdown restrictions, according to a report by the HSPC.
Sadly, public health obscurantism has also brought denial of their own data, which said outdoor transmission of Covid-19 is about as frequent as curlew sightings.
The latest embarrassment over NPHET refusing to acknowledge the benefits of antigen testing, underlines that if left-wing politicians are slavishly going ‘to follow the public health advice,’ and whatever Yes Minister civil servant advises then we won’t see radical reforms in Ireland any time soon.
Guests of the Nation
Over the course of the pandemic Irish attitudes have hardened against the free movement of people in and out of the country, culminating in the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantines for some foreign, including EU, arrivals at the end of February.
Contemporary Irish attitudes to hardworking foreigners resident in Ireland recall Frank O’Connor’s classic 1931 short story ‘Guests of the Nation.’ Set during the War of Independence 1919-21 it portrays a bond of friendship that grows up between two IRA men, Bonaparte (the narrator), and Noble, who are detailed to guard two captured English soldiers Belcher and ‘Awkins who have a natural affinity with the country:
I couldn’t at the time see the point of me and Noble being with Belcher and ‘Awkins at all, for it was and is my fixed belief you could have planted that pair in any untended spot from this to Claregalway and they’d have stayed put and flourished like a native weed.
Ultimately ‘Awkins and Belcher are sacrificed at the altar of of a narrow nationalism, just as a today the Populist appeal to ‘protect our own people’ has ordained that the rights of immigrants in Ireland, and abroad, to see their families was disregarded.
"We need to protect our own people. We have a duty to protect our own people to the maximum. This legislation fails to do that"✖️
That's why we have proposed an amendment to make hotel quarantine mandatory for everyone travelling here with the exception of essential travel 🛬 pic.twitter.com/wwaFueUbvz
— The Labour Party (@labour) February 24, 2021
This appears to stem from a widespread notion that ‘we,’ like faraway New Zealand and Australia, can eliminate the disease from ‘our’ shores altogether – devolving into the juvenile #wecanbezeros hashtag adopted by some politicians on the left. The problem is that ‘we’ are a society with lots of ‘them’ immigrants living here, and an enormous diaspora of ‘us’ beyond the shores of an island divided into two jurisdictions, highly dependent on international trade in goods arriving on trucks (with drivers).
Moreover, apart from the extreme geographic isolation and sparse populations of Australia and New Zealand, ‘we’ in Ireland have legal obligations to preserve freedom of movement under European treaties and the Good Friday Agreement, enshrining a porous open land border. Apart from committing economic hari-kari, pursuit of ZeroCovid appears legally impossible, unless of course we want to pursue an Irexit and build a wall along the Northern border.
Mandatory Hotel Quarantine sends out a clear message to immigrant communities about their importance to the Irish political and media establishment.https://t.co/IAvNYWBZ5r@MlMcNamaraTD @broadsheet_ie @harrybrowne @ICCLtweet @liamherrick @BowesChay @IsabelO20183051
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) April 13, 2021
Nonetheless, egged on by febrile – ‘if it bleeds it leads’ – coverage in a national media increasingly reliant on government advertising, a prevailing view is that all deaths from Covid are essentially preventable; emanating from the failing of the state, or the reviled Covidiot, rather than being the tragic consequence of a pandemic, the death toll from which has been systematically exaggerated.
Moreover, intercepted correspondence within the ZeroCovid ISAG group of independent scientists – who have taken on the Opus Dei role to the Catholic hierarchy of NPHET – reveals, among other disturbing insights, that they were looking ‘for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.’ As these revelations first appeared in right-wing Gript, however, the left-wing echo chamber refuses to acknowledge it is being played.
Are you right there Michael?
Nonetheless, a number of politicians have come forward representing an anti-authoritarian left, concerned by the harms of lockdown and favouring a targeted approach – protecting the elderly – and building up ICU capacity. In a recent blistering Twitter attack the independent (and former Labour) TD for Clare, barrister Michael McNamara – who as chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 Response became as well acquainted as any Irish politician with diverging epidemiological assessments of the pandemic – identified a recurring Irish deference to vested authority.
In response to a Fintan O’Toole article critiquing the DUP McNamara wrote: ‘Instead of criticising unionism, let’s look at the complete mess we’ve made of Irish nationalism and nationhood. We’re ruled by a junta of medics, just as we were Rome Ruled for 7 decades. The Orthodoxy changes but the crawthumping remains the same.’
He continued: ‘If it wasn’t for Unionism, we’d be like Hoxha’s Albania now. There’d be no way off this island. But there is a beacon. Belfast Airport and Larne are beyond the reach of NPHET, just as surely as the rule of the Archbishop’s palace in Drumcondra didn’t pass the bridge in Portadown.’
He added more controversially:
‘We can’t blame the medics for their experimental therapy, any more than we could blame the clergy for their zeal. Successive governments have abdicated their democratic responsibility throughout this State’s short history. So why would Unionists want to be “governed” by Dublin?’
Instead of criticising unionism, let's look at the complete mess we've made of Irish nationalism and nationhood. We're ruled by a junta of medics, just as we were Rome Ruled for 7 decades. The Orthodoxy changes but the crawthumping remains the same. https://t.co/05VbBmHnSI
— Michael McNamara TD (@MlMcNamaraTD) April 17, 2021
It was a fair question, when one considers the North is reopening far sooner than the Republic. Although this has arrived after a rapid vaccine rollout, the experimental nature of which McNamara raises problems with.
Facing Up to Errors
Here we come to the crux of an unhelpful cultural division between left and right that the ruling parties will use to divide and conquer. This is the new identity politics arising out of the pandemic, epitomised by attitudes towards face masks.
For too many on the left the science on this issue is proven as opposed to followed. Wearing a face mask now appears to have become an article of faith. Yet a recent report by the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention entitled ‘Using face masks in the community: first update – Effectiveness in reducing transmission of COVID-19’ stated:
The evidence regarding the effectiveness of medical face masks for the prevention of COVID-19 in the community is compatible with a small to moderate protective effect, but there are still significant uncertainties about the size of this effect. Evidence for the effectiveness of non-medical face masks, face shields/visors and respirators in the community is scarce and of very low certainty.
Additional high-quality studies are needed to assess the relevance of the use of medical face masks in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aged 32 Doaa Baker's decision to remove the #hijab caused a humongous stir. She courts similar public opprobrium over a decision she made during this pandemic.https://t.co/hXopSgHFBR@broadsheet_ie @indepdubnrth @DLangwallner @liamherrick @ICCLtweet @RositaSweetman
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) April 16, 2021
Moreover, the Irish left should consider our dependence on pharmaceutical behemoths that jealously guard intellectual properties, notwithstanding huge state aid grants, and indemnification against adverse reactions. It is akin to the dependence of small farmers in developing countries on genetically modified seed, under a model of Philanthrocapitalism overseen by Bill Gates, who according to a recent article by Alexander Zaitchik has shown “a lifelong ideological commitment to knowledge monopolies,” and devotes hundreds of millions of dollars each year to whitewashing his reputation through “charitable” media grants.
Moreover, all too often, media debates around Covid-19 fail to acknowledge the link between pre-existing morbidities – ‘underlying conditions’ – and morbidity and mortality from Covid-19. Thus, US Studies have shown that having a BMI over 30—the threshold that defines obesity—increases the risk of being admitted to hospital with covid-19 by 113%, of being admitted to intensive care by 74%, and of dying by 48%, making it almost as relevant a consideration as having been vaccinated.
In Ireland, moreover, Mayo coroner Patrick O’Connor recently questioned the attribution of deaths to Covid-19, saying: ‘In reality, a lot of people have terminal cancer or multiple other serious co-morbidities. People can die from Covid and or with Covid. I think numbers that are recorded as Covid deaths may be inaccurate and do not have a scientific basis.’
Death figures reported by Nphet “do not have a scientific basis”, according to the Mayo coroner Patrick O’Connor https://t.co/ZsxsO7ZO8A
— The Sunday Times Ireland (@SunTimesIreland) April 18, 2021
Furthermore, by embracing ZeroCovid Utopianism many on the Irish left failed to focus on the failings of a decrepit Irish health system. This epitomises a tendency among politicians to dance to the tune of a corporate media that has placed relentless focus on the disease itself, regularly interviewing mendacious ISAG figures, while generally ignoring underlying social and environmental factors that drive morbidity and mortality.
The canard that Ireland could simply shut its borders and reach ZeroCovid perhaps points to the need for reform of an Irish secondary educational system, which according to the a rather unkind assessment from the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher is designed to produce ‘second-class robots.’ Perhaps too many of us are lacking the requisite critical faculties to look beyond news headlines.
In fact a radically different, defiantly left-wing approach to the pandemic been put forward by, among others, Harvard epidemiologists Katherine Yih and Martin Kuldorff in The Jacobin. They pointed out:
Elites have seen their stock portfolios balloon in value, and many professionals have been able to keep their jobs by working from home. It is the country’s poor and working-class households, particularly those with children, who have borne a disproportionate share of the burden. Lower-income Americans were much more likely to be forced to work in unsafe conditions, to have lost their livelihoods due to business and school shutdowns, or to be unable to learn remotely.
Beyond ZeroCovid, the Irish left should emphasis the harms of Ireland’s reliance on lockdowns, and harness the malcontents of the poorest, including small business owners. Otherwise they court irrelevance as the traditional ruling parties have already taken on the role of ‘caring’ for the people, while retaining the power to ease restrictions in the face of opposition from the left.
Science and Technology are not Neutral
Also, as opposed to running in fear from being labelled anti-vaxxers by a cheerleading corporate media, the left might at least consider the wisdom of foisting vaccines that have been granted under emergency use conditions on all age groups. Indeed, many on the left in Ireland seem unwilling to question dominant institutional narratives, a tendency recently criticized by the Greek socialist Panagiotis Sotiris in The Jacobin, who said: ‘What is missing here is something that used to be one of the main traits of the radical left, namely, an insistence that science and technology are not neutral.’
It remains unclear whether universal immunization will bring about long-term ‘herd’ immunity; while in the absence of long-term safety data the benefits to young, healthy subjects of vaccination may not outweigh the cost in terms of adverse events from treatments granted under emergency use licences. Sober assessment seems to have given way to an ideological and, at times, a coercive approach.
In terms of the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, writing in the British Medical Journal, Peter Doshi, pointed to how in the media ‘a relative risk reduction is being reported, not absolute risk reduction, which appears to be less than 1%’ for severe disease.’ Ollario et al in The Lancet referred to absolute risk reductions of ‘1·3% for the AstraZeneca–Oxford, 1·2% for the Moderna–NIH, 1·2% for the J&J, 0·93% for the Gamaleya, and 0·84% for the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccines.’ The authors also pointed to how ‘considerations on efficacy and effectiveness are based on studies measuring prevention of mild to moderate COVID-19 infection; they were not designed to conclude on prevention of hospitalisation, severe disease, or death, or on prevention of infection and transmission potential.’
Doshi has also objected to the undermining of ‘the scientific integrity of the double-blinded clinical trial the company—and other companies—have been conducting, before statistically valid information can be gathered on how effectively the vaccines prevent hospitalizations, intensive care admissions or deaths.’ This came after Pfizer pleaded an ‘ethical responsibility’ to unblind its trial and offer those who received a placebo the opportunity to receive its vaccine.
Doshi argued that ‘there was another way to make an unapproved vaccine available to those who need it without undermining a trial. It’s called “expanded access.” Expanded access enables any clinician to apply on behalf of their patient to the FDA for a drug or vaccine not yet approved. The FDA almost always approves it quickly.’
A colonial legacy, a distrust of a mercantilist pharmaceutical industry and erosion of democracy jeopardise preserving population health through vaccination write MSF's Francoise Duroch & Duncan McLeanhttps://t.co/brW41215h9@broadsheet_ie @BallouxFrancois @FrancoiseDuroch
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) January 16, 2021
An alternative policy would be to reserve vaccines for those most susceptible to severe symptoms – the old and the obese – along with healthcare workers and others unavoidably working around the world in congested environments. Devoting scarce resources to increasing ICU provision to bring us into line with European averages might be a better approach than relying exclusively on the quick fix of the vaccine.
The Irish left should now desist from identity politics around vaccine uptake that the centre-right is relishing. ‘Tiktok’ Harris previously stoked tensions with talk of mandatory vaccines and promoting vaccine passports. The left should resist vaccine apartheid, nationally and globally, while demanding the release of patents earned through state supports.
On the Horizon
Ireland can expect significant social problems to emerge out of our world-beating lockdown strategy that recalls a prior devotion to austerity; a mental health pandemic and mass youth unemployment are upon us already. Moreover, the young are currently denied the safety valve of an easy hop to another English-speaking country for work. This may be a recipe for radicalism, but unfortunately genuinely dark forces on the far-right are ready to pounce on malcontents.
It is surely vital that we maintain our European connections, thereby scrapping Mandatory Health Quarantine that is an insult to immigrant groups in Ireland, as well as the diaspora. 90% of scientists believe that Covid-19 will be with us forever, so it seems there will always be ‘variants of concern’ to contend with, just as there are with influenza.
As a country Ireland has serious work to get on with in terms of addressing a housing crisis and improving our environment. A narrow focus on the pandemic should not be allowed to derail these efforts. This may be like a war but it is not a war. Even prior to vaccines, this is a virus with an infection fatality rate of less than 0.2% in most locations. Moreover, up to 86% of those infected may not have symptoms, such as cough, fever, or loss of taste or smell, according to a UK study from October. We require better provision of public health and an adequate plan to address the ongoing obesity pandemic.
We also need to start thinking more critically — and speaking more cautiously — about Long Covid, considering ‘at least some people who identify themselves as having Long Covid appear never to have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.’
A New Social Contract?
The pandemic calls for a new social contract to be negotiated in Ireland that acknowledges republican values of Non-Domination; Mixed Government and tolerance of Obstreperous Citizens. The French COVID-19 Scientific Council led the way in a paper for The Lancet:
it is time to abandon fear-based approaches based on seemingly haphazard stop-start generalised confinement as the main response to the pandemic; approaches which expect citizens to wait patiently until intensive care units are re-enforced, full vaccination is achieved, and herd immunity is reached.
Crucially, the new approach should be based on a social contract that is clear and transparent, rooted in available data, and applied with precision to its range of generational targets. Under this social contract, younger generations could accept the constraint of prevention measures (eg, masks, physical distancing) on the condition that the older and more vulnerable groups adopt not only these measures, but also more specific steps (eg, voluntary self-isolation according to vulnerability criteria) to reduce their risk of infection. Measures to encourage adherence of vulnerable groups to specific measures must be promoted consistently and enforced fairly. Implementation of such an approach must be done sensitively and in conjunction with the deployment of vaccination across the various population targets, including all generations of society.
They argue against reliance on lockdowns:
Using stop-start general confinement as the main response to the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer feasible. Though attractive to many scientists, and a default measure for political leaders fearing legal liability for slow or indecisive national responses, its use must be revisited, only to be used as a last resort.
To date, many on the Irish left appear to have had their heads in the sand promoting a Utopian ZeroCovid solution. This should give way to a more balanced appraisal that considers the interests of all of Irish society. With the youngest population in Europe, and as one of the richest countries, the Irish government could have preserved a far higher standard of living for the population during the pandemic. We now need to draw up a social contract that takes a more balanced approach.
Featured Image: Daniele Idini
[i] O’Toole, Fintan (editor), Up The Republic: Towards a New Ireland. Faber and Faber, London, 2012, p.1-52.
[ii] Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Penguin, London, 1966, p.22
[iii] Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World, Tales of Marx and Marxism, Little, Brown, London, 2011, p.79