Now that Ireland has decided to ban flights from the UK over the new strain of covid-19, it’s worth taking a little trip down memory lane.
Do you remember back in March, at the very beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, when Simon Harris, as Health Minister, said that the government wouldn’t be closing our country’s borders?
The justification he gave, if you’ll cast your mind back, was that there was no point in banning flights from covid-19 hotspots like Italy, because it “wouldn’t work”.
“Free movement is very much at the core of the entire purpose of the EU,” the then Health Minister said.
“Even if people were in the space of individual countries banning flights, it simply wouldn’t work. People move from one country, to the other country, to the other country….And our responses have to be proportionate. We can’t avoid people travelling around, people moving around.”
Simon Harris earlier this month
– Banning flights from #Covid_19 hotspots like Italy "wouldn't work"
– "Free movement of people" is core purpose of EU
– "We can't avoid people travelling around, people moving around"#LateLateShow #Ireland #LockdownIrelandpic.twitter.com/vxSmNzfme8
— Emma Murphy (@EmmaMurphy12150) March 27, 2020
By this point, mind you, some people had even been calling to close Ireland’s borders for two whole months, before there was a single case recorded in Ireland:
Ireland/the EU should immediately shut down all travel to and from China over this #CoronavirusOutbreak. @LeoVaradkar is both Taoiseach and Minister for Defence, if he does not act swiftly he will seriously imperil Irish lives.
— Ben Scallan 🇮🇪 (@Ben_Scallan) January 26, 2020
And yet, following Harris’ statement, the government and the Department of Health allowed a litany of international events to take place in the country, including:
– the Global Alcohol Policy Convention in Dublin Castle, organised in partnership with the Department of Health. Over 1,000 people attended, from all parts of the world, including areas that we knew were struggling and failing to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
– The Cheltenham Race Festival
– 189 Keelings strawberry pickers from Bulgaria
– God knows how many regular flights to Ireland from Italy and other covid hotspots
…and much more. Later, many covid clusters were even traced back to these events.
The head of Horse Racing Ireland has admitted that, with the benefit of hindsight, last month’s Cheltenham festival should not have taken place.
You really didn’t need hindsight – it was obvious at the time. We cancelled St Patrick’s Day events that weekhttps://t.co/ceNWr5yVNO
— Colette Browne (@colettebrowne) April 29, 2020
Coronavirus Ireland: Irishman who went to Cheltenham Festival tests positive for COVID-19 https://t.co/OI2KrNA5C9
— Irish Daily Mirror (@IrishMirror) March 22, 2020
The World Health Organisation had even said that “no event” was without risk of covid, and yet these things were allowed to take place anyway, because, apparently, according to Simon and the government, banning flights “wouldn’t work”.
"There is no event without a risk."
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) March 3, 2020
And yet, 2,000+ deaths and a ruined economy later, now that a new covid strain has been found in the UK, what is the government’s reaction? Why, to immediately ban all UK travel, of course.
BREAKING: Ireland confirms the ban of all flights from Britain for 48 hours from midnight due to concerns over a new strain of #COVID19 in the UK.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 20, 2020
So does banning countries work after all, in which case the government were criminally stupid and led to the unnecessary destruction of thousands of Irish lives and livelihoods? Or does it not work, in which case this is yet another pointless economy-hammering waste of time? It’s hard to see a third possibility.
— Irish Times Business (@IrishTimesBiz) December 21, 2020
I guess an abrupt and quiet u-turn on an issue with zero public acknowledgement of wrongdoing is the political version of an apology.