Credit: Pixabay

Covid: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Give a man a fish every day, keep him quiet. 

I have a lovely dog but she is a bit headstrong and erratic. For nearly a year, I couldn’t take her anywhere unless she was on a lead but gradually, over time, I would let her off the lead on walks along the footpath for an increasing among of time. Bit by bit she became used to walking off the lead and obeying my calls to stay within a few metres. We even begun to navigate crossing the busy main road on the way for coffee each morning. She learned to sit at the pedestrian crossing and react to the beep when the little man turned green.

Then one day, she decided she didn’t need to wait. She was a few metres behind me, sniffing a bush or a lamppost as dogs do. When I called her, she looked up at me, then looked across the road. Looked at me again and bolted. No beeps. No little green man. My heart was in my mouth but luckily there were no cars travelling at speed at this time. She had either got fed up of the restrictions or decided she had figured out how to navigate the crossing herself.

A one-off aberration, I thought but when I caught up with her across the road she got a severe telling off. It won’t happen again, I surmised, but I will be extra vigilant. The next day, it was almost a carbon copy of the events. The trust had been broken. As had her obedience. It is now back on the lead for the poor little dog, at all times. Something had snapped in her mind and she was no longer going to blindly follow me. She had successfully navigated the road (and when I say navigated, it was much the same way Christopher Columbus found India, or how some Irish banks navigated the economic crash) twice, and in her mind she was invincible.

This sounds just like the story of the Irish public and NPHET/Irish government. The dog is the wilful Irish public, I am the authorities, and the traffic is Covid-19. Unfortunately, the Irish government and NPHET have confused the traffic and the road. They see the road as Covid-19. The dog cannot be trusted to navigate the road no matter what. The road will always be a danger. It will be ever present. The traffic could be heavy and fast-moving, or it could be handcarts every ten minutes. Either way, the road is an ever-present danger.

The relationship between the dog and the owner is being acted with almost the same sense of relationality. There is a master and a subordinate. The dog needs to be under the control of her master. She need to be controlled to protect other users of the public road and footpaths. She needs to be controlled to protect her from herself and from other dogs; to protect other dogs from her. Her natural instincts and inclinations are dangerous to herself and to others. Whether she thinks she has figured out how to cross the road safely, or she has got tired of being restrained, she just can’t be trusted to navigate the crossing. Though she successfully managed it twice, the master can’t be dealing with the risk she was just lucky.

Reported in the Irish Times on July 1st, Dr. Philip Nolan, Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, talking about the future wave of Covid-19 promised by the Delta variant said that a significant wave was coming and the only unknowns were how big this wave was likely to be and how it might translate into hospitalisations. What this seems to mean is that we know absolutely nothing about the Delta variant – because these, along with fatalities, are the only important things that are needed.

In fact, the number of cases should be almost irrelevant. If there are 100,000 cases and no hospitalisations and fatalities, then there is little to be concerned about from a ‘flattening the curve’ perspective. We seem not to know whether we want to get the dog across a motorway or boreen. But of course, it is not a case that we do not know anything about the Delta variant. We know what is happening in the UK, our nearest neighbour. We know the UK’s position, we have heard experts from the UK speaking, we have heard experts from the North of Ireland speaking – even Dr Sam McConkey has said we need to figure out how to reasonably live with Covid-19.

We are not tackling this blind, but we are tackling it like we are blindfolded and walking the plank.
While a handful of supporters in Ireland were lucky enough to watch the various GAA games across the country at the weekend – a sport considered to be the part of the fabric of community in Ireland – we were forced to watch crowds of tens of thousands of people commit communal hari-kari in various places across the continent as UEFA and the various governments lost the plot, allowing more than half full stadia witness some abject football over the last few weeks. Surely a cosmopolitan concern for all of humanity should have the Irish Government making representation at the UN for this huge abdication of responsibility of other governments across Europe. Surely, if the Irish position is to be taken seriously, then every other government is playing fast and loose with the lives of their citizenry? The UN must intervene!

It is again a case of some kind of Irish exceptionalism to the problem of Covid. We failed to pay any attention to what was happening in nursing homes across Europe in 2020 and just allowed ourselves to repeat the practices that resulted in half of those dying from Covid being those under institutional care – not just in Ireland, but everywhere in Europe. This is the equivalent of the master leading the dog across the road, just evading the oncoming traffic himself but the dog not being so lucky, dragging along behind.

That’s where the dog analogy ends. While I am unlikely to let my lovely little dog off the leash for the foreseeable future, my duty of care to the dog is different to that of a government to its people. My dog did not choose me but I have a trustee responsibility for her. The government was chosen by the people to govern, not to rule. There are rights that are inherent in each individual- the standard human rights narrative being that they are based on the autonomy and agency of each person. And that is what is supposed to set us apart from the animals. We are rational, independent beings (for the most part) but the most worrying aspect of the never-ending Covid debacle is that many of us have been successfully trained to acquiesce in the abolition of our freedom.

We, like my dog, do not seem to mind being on the leash, and though it is assumed we will lose the run of ourselves if the velvet glove of our elected and unelected leaders lets go of our shackles – and maybe we might do something that Tony Holohan will frown upon – we seem to acquiesce without complaint to being put back on the leash.

Indeed, my poor little dog has no problems being on the leash and never once complained about her loss of freedom. She is just grateful every time I take her for a walk. In fact, she complains when she doesn’t get her regular walk, twice a day, or when it is meal-time, and likely the first stirrings of general public disquiet will be when the gravy train ends with the cessation of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment scheme and such other subsidisation. As the old adage goes, if you give a man to fish you feed him for a day, but if you give him a fish every day he will be dependent, compliant and docile.



David Reynolds

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