© Dolores Cahill

Desire to punish experts with a different view on Covid smacks of spite

Dr Martin Feeley was sacked by the HSE despite a lifetime of service to healthcare, an achievement previously recognised in his appointment as clinical director of the HSE’s Dublin Midlands Health Group. His offence was to state that, in his medical opinion, for most people Covid-19 was no worse than the flu, and that the virus had not been shown to kill people indiscriminately in the way the Spanish Flu did.

For daring to express a different view, Dr Feeley was told that his position was no longer tenable by the HSE.

All of the media, with the exception of this platform, played along with the sneaky establishment game  of describing his sacking as a ‘resignation’. Whistle blowers are fired, you see, people who recognise that they’ve done something wrong resign, and it was important that the public be properly misled on what had happened.

The good Dr Feeley did not go quietly, however.  In a Prime Time slot, which was notable in that it actually featured a debate rather than a panel of nodding heads, he said that the government’s restrictions were depressing the nation. He also told Larissa Nolan that he had ‘no regrets’ about speaking out.

None of that however, compensates for the fact that the man was fired for expressing a view. There’s a deep vein of nasty spite running through the enforcers of this long, dreary and never-ending lockdown.

That spite has been evident again and again in the social media mob chasing Dr Marcus de Brún and complaining him to the medical council for speaking at an anti-lockdown rally. Dr de Brún has now withdrawn from the debate and deleted his Twitter account because, he said, his colleagues have also become the target of the vitriol that meets everyone who has a different view on how to tackle Covid 19.

Last week, the Independent tried to raise up a mob against another high-profile critic of the government’s actions on the virus.

Dolores Cahill is a Professor of Translational Science at the School of Medicine in UCD. According to the university’s website she is a “world-renowned expert” in her field, and is obviously highly-regarded internationally with a dizzying array of qualifications, citations, awards and memberships of scientific bodies listed on her CV.

She has come under sustained fire in the media and online because of her outspoken views on the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. To me, this is extraordinary. Science, surely, is never settled, and the best scientists always seek to push knowledge forward by questioning, examining and debating evidence. An obvious example is mask-wearing: the WHO (and some Irish experts) said not to wear masks when the crisis first hit, they’ve since changed their minds. Another is the use of hydroxychloroquine in treating Covid-19, something Cahill was castigated for promulgating, until the Lancet was forced to retract studies which had claimed to show it was risky because the data had been invented.

Professor Cahill is a brilliant scientist, who disagrees with some of her peers on Covid-19. Her critics say some of her observations are incorrect, but she is entitled to her opinion and to have her views aired, just as every person is – and in this case, Prof Cahill has some seriously impressive scientific credentials to bring to the table, unlike many of those who are railing against her. If her critics believe her to be wrong then surely they should be happy to debate her.

But even railing against Cahill isn’t enough for the self-appointed guardians of public opinion in Ireland. They are only satisfied when anyone who disagrees with them is destroyed – not just silenced and censored but also denied employment and the ability to make a living.

Ellen Coyne’s article in the Independent claiming student “outcry” at UCD’s failure to sack Professor Cahill is a recent example of this spite, and of the kind of manufactured news which dresses up an agenda as reporting.

The breathless reporting in the piece suggests that the UCD campus in is turmoil because lectures with Professor Cahill are ‘mandatory’ for students even though she has made ‘high-profile and controversial remarks’. The students are so upset, apparently, that some of them have even made contact with the Independent, the poor pets.

At the end of the article a little more clarity is provided: a relatively small number of students (133 out of a campus of 32,000) signed a letter of complaint last June demanding Cahill’s head. UCD, with admirable gutsiness given the current climate of hysteria, responded by saying its guidelines on academic freedom stated that “an individual is free to express their opinion even when that opinion is controversial”.

Now, Coyne is a journalist and Cahill is a brilliant scientist, so it may feel like a case of a gnat buzzing at a lion. But the Independent is the biggest paper in the country, so this is actually a case of a media giant punching down because the unspoken message is very clear: Professor Cahill shouldn’t be allowed to continue teaching because she is, to paraphrase Orwell, a thought dissident.

Women thinking for themselves used to be something the media claimed to encourage. That seems no longer to be the case. The spite driving the attempts to shut down any debate on how to best tackle Covid-19 is deeply unpleasant and does not bode well for a free-thinking society.


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