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DONAL HORGAN: Decades of weak Government doomed Ireland to this unending lockdown

Tricky pub quiz question – who is Ireland’s Minister for Defence?

The reason it’s a tricky question is that Ireland, uniquely amongst countries, doesn’t have a Minister for Defence or certainly one with sole responsibility for the defence of the country. Given that the defence portfolio is stitched on to Simon Coveney’s responsibilities as Minister for Foreign Affairs, what we effectively have is a part-time Minister for Defence.

So what has that got to do with the fact that Ireland has had Europe’s longest lockdown? Last April when it looked like our hospitals might be overwhelmed with Covid cases, it emerged that the Irish defence forces – uniquely in Europe – would not be in a position to set up a field hospital due to a lack of qualified personnel.

Many like to explain Ireland’s marathon Level 5 lockdown as part of some shadowy conspiracy on the part of the country’s political elites to curb individual freedoms. The real reason for the extended lockdown may be a lot simpler than that – many state services in Ireland are in such a shambles that the country’s political rulers had no choice other than effectively confining the population to their homes for months on end.

Even before Covid, everyone already knew that the Irish health service was balanced on a knife edge. On any given year, even the annual flu threatens to overwhelm our health service. If Ireland merely implemented the type of lockdown that most other European countries did, the health service could still collapse. The only chance the Irish health service had was implementing the longest and strictest lockdown in Europe. It was ill prepared to deal with anything most of all a pandemic. The same can be said for many other state services.

In a country which doesn’t even have a full time Minister for Defence, it’s hardly surprising to learn that the defence forces lack the capacity to set up a field hospital. Neither is the low morale in the naval service which has seen a steady exodus of trained personnel. Recent reports suggest that the naval service may now be operating at 20% below its minimum manpower requirement. No doubt this is music to the ears of international drug smugglers and foreign fishing trawlers.

Liberal Ireland has dined out on the deluded notion that because the Irish are the most progressive people on the planet, they don’t need a lot of the state services that most other countries see as essential. Why do we need an army? After all, everyone knows that Ireland is the birth place of Bono and the friendliest and most popular football supporters in the world. Who would possibly want to invade us? Why would Ireland even need a full time Minister for Defence?

It seems that the Covid 19 pandemic has cruelly exposed that piece of deluded nonsense. Perhaps, after all, the defence forces may have been needed for something more than virtue signalling stunts such as ferrying migrants around the Mediterranean. Above all else, Covid has exposed just how shambolic many state services in Ireland actually are.

Ireland is now a country whose political classes expend their capital on vanity liberal projects rather than ensuring that the state actually provides services for its citizens.  Unlike most countries, Ireland may not have a full time Minister for Defence, yet it has no shortage of ministers with a near full time obsession with items from an ever expanding liberal agenda.

In the middle of a pandemic and with the populace under virtual house arrest for months on end, Josepha Madigan, Minister for Special Needs and Inclusion, was exercised about more pressing issues such as whether the Kerryman newspaper might consider changing its name to something more inclusive like the Kerrypeople.

Minister Madigan’s musings may have been little more than a ruse to distract the Irish populace from the reality of being confined to within 5km of their homes for months on end. Or ….. it could be worse than that –  maybe she was serious and thinks these matters merit ministerial consideration after all?  In the same way, responsibility for the lamentable state of the Irish health service has to be laid at the door of Simon Harris, a minister for health who was prepared to fly any number of liberal kites rather than doing what he was supposed to be doing – fixing the Irish health system.

No blame can be attached to the hardworking men and women of our health service or indeed the defence forces for the shambles that is Ireland’s state services. It’s the inevitable legacy of a political culture which has put virtue signalling and grandstanding above the provision of basic state services. This has been liberal Ireland’s great project for at least the last decade and it seems that it is the people of Ireland who are now being asked to pay the price.

In December 2020, the government established a Commission on the Defence Forces. The aim is to arrest the long term neglect of the defence forces by improving pay and conditions as well as building proper career structures so as to retain personnel. Whatever recommendations the Commission actually comes up with, the real question is whether the political will exists to do anything about them.

Will Ireland follow the example of virtually every country on the planet and appoint a full time Minister for Defence? In a country without a Minister for Defence, is it reasonable to expect anything more than a sticking plaster solution dressed up with the usual liberal platitudes?

The remarkable thing isn’t that Ireland had a lockdown but rather that the Irish lockdown has been longer and stricter than anywhere else in Europe. Increasingly, Ireland is unique in Europe in the shambolic state of many of its state services. Perhaps, it’s time that we recognised that one may well be a consequence of the other.



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