© D Storan / Shutterstock

Donnelly’s great antigen test subsidy mess

One of the things about being in Government is that it is very likely that you will face political problems and crises, many of which are not your fault. For example, though one might fundamentally disagree with the Government’s slightly hysterical reaction to the emergence of the Omicron variant, as yours truly does, nobody could seriously argue that the emergence of the variant is their fault. They did not create it. Nature did.

This present Irish Government, however, has an almost unbelievable knack for creating political problems for itself: Take brainwaves like the “bonus for healthcare workers”. Nobody made them propose that. Nobody forced them into it. And yet, with one bone-headed announcement, they created a political rod for their own backs by excluding all sorts of people who also – naturally – felt that they deserved some sort of bonus.

The latest example of that phenomenon is the farcical row over subsidising antigen tests.

Nobody forced the Irish Government to announce that it was considering subsidising antigen tests. It could simply have recommended the tests to people, and announced that it would continue to provide free PCR testing, as it has done for 20 months. Take this quote from Stephen Donnelly:

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Stephen Donnelly said kits had been broadly retailing at €8 per test and for many people this was “simply not affordable”.

That sentence is the classic example of a politician highlighting, and creating for himself, a problem. The price of antigen tests – whether they be three, or thirty, euros – is not a matter that Government needed to involve itself in. All it needed to do was say that antigen tests are an option for people if they wish to use them, and that the Government would consider making them available in schools and other settings Government controls where they might be a good option.

Instead, Donnelly and his master, the Taoiseach, decided to raise people’s hopes and expectations that they would be getting antigen tests at a subsidised rate. Then, yesterday, they decided to backtrack on that policy.

Consider that, just a few weeks ago, somebody purchasing an antigen test had no reason whatever to think negatively of the Government when they were doing so. Yes, the tests may have been expensive, but few rational people would blame the politicians for that.

Now consider that tomorrow, and every day thereafter, when somebody purchases and antigen test and pays over the odds, they will be reminded that Government said they would subsidise those tests, and then reneged.

It is political malpractice of the most hilarious kind.

One of the problems for this Government – speaking purely in terms of political presentation, here – is that Stephen Donnelly does not appear to realise that he is, in fact, in the Government. Since he became the health minister, he has continuously floated policies and ideas in the manner of an opposition spokesperson, without any particular plan to implement them. Then, when those ideas are not implemented, he looks like a fool.

Simon Harris has never been an especially popular figure on these pages, but, say this for the man: he is a gifted and intelligent political communicator. When he announces a policy, it tends to get enacted. He also has a gift for speaking optimistically. Donnelly does not. When the present Minister for Health takes to the airwaves, it tends always to be to highlight a problem, rather than a solution. Few of his colleagues appear to have much confidence in him.

Messes like this are a primary reason why.

Share mdi-share-variant mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-printer mdi-chevron-left Prev Next mdi-chevron-right Related
Comments are open

The biggest problem Ireland faces right now is:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...