Callum Robinson proves: “Tolerant Ireland” is a myth

Perhaps the most remarkable moment in Irish broadcasting came this week on Joe Duffy’s “Liveline” programme on Wednesday afternoon. A caller, ringing in to complain over the decision by Irish soccer player Callum Robinson to decline a vaccine, described the West Brom striker as a “carrier” of covid. Presumably this description referred to the fact that Robinson has had Covid 19 not once, but twice. But of course, once you have recovered from the illness, you can no longer transmit it. It’s not a disease like AIDS, where the virus can lie dormant in your body, and still be transmitted to others. Once you’ve had it and recovered, you are no longer infectious. The description of Robinson as a “carrier” was total, and complete, misinformation, of the kind which RTE tells us that they need more money to help combat. And yet, here it was, misinformation, on their own programme.

It went unremarked upon, of course, because it was the right kind of misinformation. Misinformation in a good cause, one might say.

On a semi related note, a friend noted in a whatsapp group yesterday their amazement at observing an adult male, in his work canteen, fastidiously cleaning his seat, table, and general area with disinfectant wipes before sitting down to his meal. This, in an environment where all the staff are vaccinated, and where the canteen staff work to keep the place clean and disinfected. Yet, this man was still so afraid of covid, after two jabs and a year and a half of covid protocols, that he still lives in permanent fear of his own colleagues.

The two stories are not unrelated. Covid panic remains at an extraordinary high level in Ireland, even if the danger of covid has subsided. It is extraordinary, given how much the Irish media preaches about misinformation, just how scared many people who listen to the Irish media remain.

On the vaccines, the facts are relatively simple: The evidence suggests that they are safe, and moderately effective, though that effectiveness may decline with time. A vaccinated person can still catch covid, and transmit it, though the chances of both are substantially reduced. Equally, a person who has had Covid and recovered has strong natural immunity, though some scientists fear this may decline, too, with time. Those who are at greatest risk are those who have had no exposure whatever to any immune event: Either they have not had Covid, or have not had a vaccine. Those people take up a vastly disproportionate number of hospital and ICU beds. But their numbers remain relatively small.

On Callum Robinson, the panic and shaming has become insane. Consider that under Irish law, having had Covid, he is entitled to a certificate of immunity – like anybody who has had the vaccine. He is no more a risk, according to the science, than anybody with two jabs. He poses no threat to his teammates, colleagues, or family. And yet, he is being roundly denounced. Why?

The only possible answer is that the Irish media has perpetuated misinformation to the public on an industrial scale.

This misinformation would be bad enough in a normal society. But in a country that values conformity and compliance as highly as Ireland does, it provides a recipe for uncommon toxicity. Unspoken, but also relevant, is that Robinson, though an Irish player, is English by birth and accent. That adds up to another old Irish trope, and one we pretend does not exist: The sassenach outsider coming here to threaten our society.

Politicians and journalists in Ireland have a duty to the public to calmly and logically set out the facts. This is a duty that in this case, they have completely abrogated.

We pride ourselves in Ireland on being a tolerant and compassionate country. We are neither. This story is a good example of it. Callum Robinson has done nothing wrong, either legally, or morally. He has as much immunity to Coronavirus as the Taoiseach, or any member of the cabinet does. He has as much immunity as any journalist, or liveline caller. And yet, there is no tolerance for his position. There was certainly no compassion for his position, or empathy.

In Ireland, we demand total conformity with whatever the pieties of the day might be, and then re-define those pieties as tolerance and compassion. On a given day, it might be considered tolerant and compassionate to support assisted suicide. Or mandatory vaccinations. Or sending pregnant women to a special home. The values in Ireland change with the wind. The only thing which has never changed, and likely never will, is our national self-righteousness.

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