The column first appeared on Broadsheet on December 20th. In it I look at the latest government responses to the Omicron variant and ask if we are taking sufficient notice from what our government, and others across Europe and across the globe, have sometimes done wrong, and often done right.
I specifically urge the re-establishment of the Special Dáil Committee on Covid-19, which was, in a most short-sighted move, disbanded in October 2020.
In his hefty 2011 tome, The Better Angels of Our Nature, cognitive psychologist, Prof Steven Pinker argues that the lesson is history is a society that has become less violent. His central premise is that there has never been any time, in the history of mankind, when we were less likely to die at another’s hand, than now.
It’s an uncommonly positive and optimistic analysis of the state of the world. Right now we need as much of that as we can get. Pinker’s outlook is not unique to him. Many others have reached the same conclusion. This is hardly a surprise. The statistics are convincing.
This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on December 6th and looks at two strained sets of relationships. The first is that between ministers and NPHET and the second is the one between the government and the hospitality industry.
When it comes to the relationship between the Cabinet and NPHET, a mutual preparedness to blur the delineation between roles of decision-maker and decision implementer, is coming back to bite… both .
Meanwhile, the government’s willingness to propose additional restrictions for the hospitality sector can be seen as an attempt to distract from the same government’s lethargy on ICU beds, ventilation and antigen testing.
Many years ago I was asked to help in the re-structuring and re-invigoration of a voluntary organisation. I was one of a group of outsiders. Each tasked with reviewing key aspects of the organisation’s work, operations, and structures.
Each of us brought a different skillset to the mission, HR, communications, fund raising and organisation. Towards the end of the assignment they brought us together to compare notes.
Governance had been a major issue in the organisation with the odd board member accused of crossing the line and getting involved in the day-to-day operations. So, we were all interested to see and hear what the person looking at organisation and governance would recommend.
This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday Oct 18th, the day before the government decided not to proceed with its original plan to lift most of the continuing Covid19 restrictions. I think ministers are making a mistake. They should have focused instead on (a) making life less burdensome for the vaccinated and (b) placing increased pressure on the 300,000 or so un-vaxxed to folks to get vaccinated ASAP. Though I accept full 100% coverage is impossible.
Getting more people to get their shots is what drives the Italian workplace Green Pass system (which I indirectly reference below). I recommend listening to this 17-minute Podcast on the Italian system. It is from my colleagues in BEERG/HRPA.
The idea that the way to stop folks breaking rules is to make more rules is akin to saying if two wrongs don’t make a right… let’s try three.
It is absurd to hear the government talk about not lifting restrictions only days after boasting about our being the Covid resilience world leader.
Yet that’s where we are. You cannot turn on a news show without hearing yet another minister preparing us for the October 22 re-opening not going ahead.
The Taoiseach took it a step further in yesterday’s Sunday Independent. There he hinted that the government had already decided to pause further reopening. As if to sugar coat this failure of policy, Martin sought to comfort us by saying:
“… we are not contemplating going backwards. The only issue facing us now is going forward”
If he is expecting the public to be grateful that we are not going back into lockdown, he will be disappointed.
The government is doing this the wrong way around.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday June 28th. In it I recount my experience of traveling to and from Spain on a 3-day family visit, including 3 x PCR tests and checks at Airports. I discovered after writing this piece that the PCR test required to cut your return quarantine to 5 days is free, via the HSE. Unfortunately, I discovered this information after I had pre-booked and pre-paid for one elsewhere.
It has been about eight months since I recounted my experiences of travelling to Spain during the pandemic. Needless to add, like the vast majority of us I have not been travelling since. That is, up to last week.
As I explained the last time, my travel was essential as I was going to visit my mother who lives in Spain, having retired there, along with my late father (who died in 2011) just over two decades ago. For reasons too personal to go into here, it was essential that I visit my mother now.
The airport staff, the airline crew and the other passengers were extremely careful, cautious and prepared. There were a few bothersome aspects, but none so trying as to be worth commenting on here. The one area on which I will focus is testing… primarily because arranging and securing tests – particularly PCR tests – is not cheap and not always easy.
Long story short – while the journey itself was not too difficult, the bottom line is this: while my return flight to Spain for 3 nights via Ryanair cost about €250, the PCR tests required to make that journey cost €400 for PCR tests. By the way, the gap between the first PCR test and the last one was approx 9 days.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday May 31st and looks at the main issue occupying the minds of most Irish voters, Housing. Now that public concerns about Covid-19 are beginning to ease, its attention has almost immediately returned to the issue that dominated before the pandemic: housing… particularly the seeming inability of the two main parties to grasp the scale of the crisis for many people.
Regular readers, by which I mean those who have read a few of my columns, opposed to those who have read just one while eating a bowl of fruit and fibre, will know that I have a few themes to which I like to occasionally return.
These include, Fianna Fáil’s future, Northern Ireland, defence/cyber security, and the old hardly annual: electoral politics. It is why opinion polls can be a useful grist to my mill. I say “can” as most of the polls published since last December have not – with the exception of one Sunday Times/B&A poll – shown much political movement.
The shifts in support between the parties over the past five months have been negligible. Across that time Red C has had Sinn Féin in a range of 27% to 29% and Fine Gael in an even tighter range of 29% to 30%. In effect, Red C polling has the two biggest parties in a continuing dead heat for first spot.
The range widens when you turn to Fianna Fáil. But is also drops. Like the proverbial stone. Red C has the party of Lemass in a range from 11% to 16%. If you treat Fianna Fail’s numbers as if they were high-diving scores (plummeting more like, says you), by removing the highest and lowest ones, the party ends up in the much tighter 13-14% range.
This column appears here out of sequence, as it first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 19th. In it, I look at this government’s problems with communications, particularly the Fianna Fáil side of it.
According to the veteran American comedian George Burns there is no big secret to comic timing. It’s very simple, he said. You tell the joke, you wait for the laughter and when the laughter stops, you tell the next joke. That’s comic timing.
It’s something similar with government communications: you deliver you message and give the public the time to let it sink in.
What you certainly do not do is to talk across your message or try to chop and change the narrative while folks are still trying to take it in.
There is nothing wrong with a minister having a new idea, indeed it is something to be encouraged. What is important is that it is an informed idea. What you don’t do is to contact a journalist to communicate an idea to the public until it has been fully formed and explored with colleagues and – hopefully – some real live experts.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet on March 29th and draws together some of the points I have been making over previous weeks, particularly relating to Fianna Fáil’s existential crisis and the dramatic changes it must make, and quickly, if it is to remain relevant in Irish politics. The party’s support levels are now lower than they were when Martin moved to out his predecessor. Martin cannot halt the inevitable, but he can still determine his legacy.
Much as I would prefer not to think about it, it is impossible for anyone with an interest in politics not to see yesterday’s Red C, Sunday Business Post poll as a seminal political moment for Fianna Fáil.
Ironically, for a poll that will be viewed as a landmark, the movements it records are quite small. I am sure this is something from which Taoiseach Micheál Martin will try to draw some comfort. Fianna Fáil’s latest 2% drop is within the margin of error and it is not in itself massively statistically important – except, it is yet another step bringing the party back down at its lowest ever point.
The party has recorded 11% in Red C polls before. Last October was the last time. The time before that was… well, never. Its lowest previous Red C rating was the 14% of early 2011 that provoked Micheál Martin to challenge Taoiseach Brian Cowen saying: “
I believe that Fianna Fáil must recognize the reality of the current climate of public opinion… I have reluctantly concluded that, in these circumstances, Fianna Fáil should change its leader.”
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday March 8th 2021. It looks at the faltering Irish vaccine roll out and concludes that not all the blame rests with Brussels. We have endured the longest lock down, closing all but essential workplaces for 200 days so far (and counting) – so, coming seventh or eighth in Europe when it comes to vaccine roll out, is just not good enough. We need to be at the top of the vaccine roll out league. That means we need to have a greater percentage of our people vaccinated, even if only with one dose, by the end of April or May.
It has long been accepted that the primary responsibility of government is the safety and protection of its people.
Though we can be critical of this government for many things, accusing it of not taking this responsibility seriously, is not one of them.
True, their execution of this responsibility has been patchy and erratic. The gradual depletion of our defence forces and the wanton neglect of national cyber security are but two obvious examples of how governments over the past decade have fallen well short of their duty to protect us, but – for the most part – the State has shown the political willingness and institutional capacity to keep us safe and well.
In this Broadsheet column, which appeared online on Monday February 15th, I look at the row over increasing the pay of the Secretary General at the Dept of Health by €80k. While some commentators are fixating on the personalities involved, I argue that the focus should be on (i). what is the role of the Sec Gen in the department of health and (ii) how is this value for money and (iii) how was this vacancy allowed to arise (and run for almost eight months) in the midst of a major public health emergency?
Last week’s furor over the Taoiseach’s St Patrick’s Day trip to the White House turned out to be a storm in a tea cup, notwithstanding my modest contribution to it on last Thursday’s Today with Claire Byrne.
As I said on the show, the country has enough real problems to tackle without having to invent hollow ones like this. As it turned out the issue resolved itself by the White House opting to go for a virtual St Patrick’s Day event this year.
There was always a possibility that the White House might decide not to host the traditional St Patrick’s Day event this year – but demanding that the Taoiseach refuse an invitation to visit the White House once such an invitation had been extended never made sense.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Jan 18th, 2021and looked at the impact of the pandemic on the craft and practise of normal politics. I suggest that we will not see a return to the normal exercise and discussion of ordinary politics until we are all able to safely have a pint or a drink without food in a non-gastro pub (the so-called Wet Bars). For that to happen, the vaccination programme will need to roll out much faster.
A faltering start and confusing release of data will not instill confidence in the public. If voters see Northern Ireland and Scotland a long way ahead of us by mid- March, in terms of vaccinating people and preparing to re-open, then public patience with the government, and with the Taoiseach and Health Minister in particular, will snap.
Writing traditional political analysis at a time when the usual power play and open practise of normal politics has been suspended is not easy. Writing it when people are worrying about the damage this pandemic is inflicting on their lives and livelihoods is uncomfortable.
The ups and down of this junior minister or that opposition frontbencher are so unimportant when compared with the concerns of people worried about whether their jobs will be still there, or their business will still be viable after the pandemic.
Even in normal times, the reporting of political processes, the who’s in and who’s out, only serves as a distraction from the real stuff of politics when its discussion is detached from the consequences of those movements on the formulation and implementation of policy.
While these are not normal times, their gradual return is almost within sight, and with those normal times will come a return to the normal practise and discussion of politics.